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Minnesota law enforcement to receive training this fall on how spot labor trafficking

Experts say few labor trafficking cases have been prosecuted, making the scope of the problem hard to measure.

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ST. PAUL -- Law enforcement agencies across the state will begin training for how to spot and investigate labor trafficking in Minnesota beginning this fall.

Labor trafficking is exploiting someone for financial gain by compelling them to work or provide services against their will. The crime does not require that the perpetrator cross state lines and is not the same as trafficking people.

The group Advocates for Human Rights have partnered with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota Department of Health to create the specific training called the Minnesota Labor Trafficking Protocol for Law Enforcement

The Advocates for Human Rights Senior Researcher Madeline Lohman said only a handful of labor trafficking cases have been criminally charged in the state so far, making it difficult to know the scope of the problem. Lohman hopes the new law enforcement training will help bring more cases out of the shadows.

“It’s about how you can walk into a situation and know you need to do more digging,” Lohman said. “That you're not just looking at a traffic stop, an assault or theft case. You’re looking at something bigger.”

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According to the state, the most common types of exploitation happen in areas of domestic work, agriculture, construction, illegal activities, or within traveling sales crews. People in vulnerable circumstances, such as being a recent migrant or someone experiencing economic hardships, are at high risk to be exploited. Those factors contribute to why labor trafficking often goes unreported.

In 2016, Lohman said her organization first partnered with others to provide training for employers, housing providers, workers’ rights groups, domestic violence advocates and other community stakeholders to better identify labor trafficking and put victims in touch with proper resources.

After the first year of training, Lohman said identified cases jumped from about 50 to 400 through community intervention. The new comprehensive training for members of law enforcement could bring another spike in identified cases. The training ranges from how traffic patrol officers can spot initial warning signs to how investigators can build cases and rapport with victims over time.

“It’s about looking at the two sides of things,” Lohman said. “‘How you hold the perpetrator accountable by building a really strong criminal case and how you support the survivor by making sure they have access to victims’ services.”

In a statement, BCA superintendent Drew Evans said, “Helping law enforcement better understand, identify and respond to these crimes will improve investigations and help put an end to labor trafficking in Minnesota communities.”

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BCA Superintendent Drew Evans in his St. Paul office.
TNS file photo

Lohman said some warning signs include when an individual appears to have some kind of control over another person during a traffic stop or any encounter with police. There are also instances when a person may not have a good grasp on where they work or when they get paid or may be hesitant to talk about it.

“We don’t have a good scope of labor trafficking because people who are victims often don’t know they are a victim and are very afraid of their trafficker,” Lohman said. “Those cases are there and they are just missed by everybody.”

Lohman said investigating labor trafficking is still relatively new for many local police agencies across the state.

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The first BCA-led training for local law enforcement agencies across the northern half of the state will take place Sept. 14 in Brainerd. The training will include discussion of case examples with those who have investigated labor trafficking and victims’ stories. The U.S Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime provided funding to create the new protocols.

“It’s a chance to dig into things that make this come alive,” Lohman said.

Lohman said her team will collect information through 2023 about how the training is being used in the first year to gauge its effectiveness.

Tips about suspected labor trafficking can be provided to BCA at 651-793-7000 or bca.tips@state.mn.us

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSJOBS
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