TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Law enforcers in west Alabama are working to stop human trafficking by forming a new task force.
Tuscaloosa police Capt. Darren Beams is heading up the task force of about two dozen officers from agencies across Tuscaloosa County.
The West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force was created among police departments from Tuscaloosa, Northport and the University of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, The Tuscaloosa News reported .
Officers in the task force are at the forefront of the fight to stop what has been called a modern form of slavery, Beams told the newspaper.
“Human traffickers are preying on the most vulnerable in our society,” he said. “The level of exploitation and the mental trauma I’ve seen in these individuals we’ve rescued is at a level second to none that I’ve seen.”
The Tuscaloosa area is a hot spot for human traffickers, partly because it’s right along a major interstate and because there’s a market for it, Beams said.
In 2018, the unit made more than 100 arrests after placing fake ads on websites that promote prostitution.
“We’ve got the largest task force in the state,” Beams said. “We have enough to go after the men, to help the women and to conduct these hotel stings we’ve been doing.”
Officers in the task force get special training — much different than what many of them learned early in their careers.
“We’ve changed our approach,” Beams said. “These women are victims of mental kidnapping.”
Among other tasks undertaken by the unit: Educating the public, schoolchildren, hotel workers and owners about human trafficking.
“Property owners have got to understand they can’t turn a blind eye anymore. Lack of knowledge is not a defense,” Beams said. “We’ll provide free training to anybody. Our goal is to get everyone educated about what’s going on in our community.”