Detroit — City officials are urging the public to be vigilant of human trafficking during the North American International Auto Show as Detroit boosts its efforts to combat the crime with plans to hire more police officers and launch a special commission.
Detroit Council President Brenda Jones said Thursday that residents and visitors should report any suspicions of human trafficking which is common during large events, such as the auto show, that attract people from across the world. Detroit’s proximity to the Canadian border is also a major concern.
“If you see something, you say something,” Jones said during a news conference. “By speaking up, you might save someone’s life.”
Jones announced the formation of the Detroit Commission on Human Trafficking, which will be tasked with training groups such as DTE Energy Co. workers, emergency room personnel and students on how to spot human trafficking.
The Detroit Police Department also received a three-year $1.8 million grant from the Department of Justice in November to fight human trafficking, Police Chief James Craig said. Craig said he plans to use that money to hire 15 more police officers that will specifically target human trafficking.
“We are looking forward to really putting a dent in this problem,” Craig said.
Last year, police made 22 arrests for human trafficking that were tied to the auto show, Craig said. Some cases are still being investigated.
The chief anticipates there will be more reports at this year’s show, which runs through Jan. 28. Sex traffickers often go to major events that attract large crowds to find their victims, Craig said.
Craig emphasized that sex trafficking is much different from prostitution because trafficking means the person is held against their will.
Many of the city’s human trafficking reports have come from strip clubs and local motels. One sign of a human trafficking victim is someone whose ID or documentation is being withheld from them, officials say.
Craig said parents should monitor their child’s social media activity as sex traffickers prey on children.
“A lot of times a child is having problems at home and someone has made an offer of something better,” Craig said. “There is a kidnapping, an abduction and they end up being taken by these sex traffickers.”
The city teamed up with human trafficking survivor and author Harriet Cammock to raise awareness of the issue. Cammock runs a shelter in Detroit for human trafficking survivors.
Cammock said she has assisted girls as young as seven who have been taken across the country and forced to have sex. There are currently two women living in her shelter. One woman had her identification stolen while being sex trafficked.
“There are so many young girls who have been taken,” said Cammock, who was brought to the United States from Jamaica by her ex-husband who she said was abusive. “As a community, we need your help. What we are going to ask is that you call 911 if you see something that just doesn’t fit right.”
Anyone who knows of an individual that needs help related to human trafficking is urged to call (888) 373-7888 or text ‘info’ or ‘help’ to 233733 (BeFree).