Agencies get education on how to combat modern day slavery
Detective Lt. Nick Reilley is a Long Island cop who speaks plainly.
In a room full of Western New York law enforcement officers on Wednesday morning, Reilley didn’t mince words as he explained the bottom line of the human trafficking trade.
“Trafficking is about money,” he said. “Whether it’s sex or labor, it’s about the money.”
Reilley was one of the featured speakers in a half day seminar on investigating and prosecuting modern day slavery sponsored by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services and the North Tonawanda Police Department.
“Local police departments are at the forefront of these investigations,” North Tonawanda Police Chief Randy Szukala said. “It’s unfortunate in this day that we’re dealing with something like slavery.”
Human trafficking, both for sex and labor, has emerged as a problem in Western New York over the past few years. Yet identifying cases and prosecuting them, according to Reilley and other seminar speakers, isn’t easy.
“Universally, the research shows that law enforcement is poorly trained to identify human trafficking,” said Reilley who heads up a special Human Trafficking Task Force for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.
Add to that, Reilley said, that many victims, a large number of whom are immigrants, are fearful of police and don’t understand how the American legal system works.
Over 60 representatives of law enforcement, including Niagara Region and Canadian police agencies, listened intently as they were told investigating human trafficking involves taking a longer look at what might appear to be just routine prostitution or illegal alien cases.
“This training provides tools to law enforcement that are long overdue,” said Niagara County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Kristin Neubauer.
In November 2007, New York enacted some of the toughest laws in the nation to combat human trafficking on the state level. Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert said after a former LPD officer was convicted in federal court for sex trafficking, the state law could not have come along at a better time.
“This law is long overdue,” Eggert said. “We’ve had some cases, but now (the human trafficking problem) is coming into view for us . We’re beginning to learn the psychology of (traffickers).”
Locally, Amy Fleischauer of the International Institute said her agency has confirmed 75 cases of human trafficking here in the last two years. Thirty-five of those cases have ended up in criminal prosecutions.
“This crime is really underidentified,” she said. “These individuals have been locked in basements and forced to work under incredibly unsafe conditions. They are beaten and raped. They live as slaves.”
Fleischauer and others said Western New York is fertile ground for this activity because it is on an international border, serves as a “pipeline between Toronto and New York City,” and has a lot of farms which she called “perfect places” for labor trafficking.
“There is so much (human trafficking) that needs to be investigated,” added Andra Ackerman, director of human trafficking prevention at DCJS.