Developing your organizational response to human trafficking.

As a highly dynamic and unpredictable crime, the response to human trafficking calls on police management/leadership to plan and systematically encourage organization-wide capacity and readiness. In the previous article I examined the issue of leadership commitment in combating human trafficking, and will now move towards examining some of the steps that police leaders can take in preparing their organization to combat human trafficking.

Establishing internally policies on responding to human trafficking, providing training, establishing specialized units and organizational measures are all steps that police leaders can take in preparing their organization to be effective in their fight against this crime.

Define anticipated outcomes and measurements.

One of the significant challenges for police leaders is to define the anticipated outcomes of a new initiative.  Determining how we measure success before we undertake a new initiative should be one of the steps that all always taken before the provisioning of time, money or effort on any issue.  Success measures may be put into place that draw upon the expectations of the myriad of stakeholders that are impacted by the initiative.  Police leaders may wish to measure arrests, victim advocacy groups may wish to measure victim recoveries; politicians may wish to measure convictions while government finance offices may wish to measure seized financial assets.  While output measures (counting things) has been the historic and easiest management measurement system, it is frequently one-dimensional, and such measures usually result in unintended consequences.

Measures of arrests may result in targeting larger groups but not necessarily recovering more victims; measuring financial seizure may target groups that have easily identified financial assets; while measuring numbers of charges may result in targeting groups that have collateral criminal offences (firearms; drugs; etc.).

Therefore, it is recommended that police leaders engage with other stakeholders to define the anticipated outcomes of the initiative before it is put into place, as those anticipated outcomes will help foster the discussion on not only the goals and aims of the initiative, but will help inform organizations’ policy, specialized unit creation and training.

Police leaders should be mindful that defining outcomes may have distinct differences from measuring outputs.

If the desire is to; raise the risks that the criminals must take; or to render their illegal businesses less profitable or to reduce the opportunities for them to exploit communities, then front line officers may achieve many of these goals through proactive investigations which may have measurable outcomes (arrests; recoveries; charges, etc.).  However, these same anticipated outcomes may also be achieved through disruptive investigations, that could include engaging public health inspectors, tax or revenue inspections, business licence enforcement, increased police patrols, labour inspections or any of a myriad of initiatives that could disrupt human trafficking activities.  However, none of these may result in measurable outcomes, and as a result such activities would be neither measured nor rewarded, and there is therefore little impetus for front line officers or investigators to undertake efforts that are not measured or recognized.

Therefore, establishing measures that are meaningful and examine the anticipated outcomes are critical for police leaders.


The establishment of an internal policy on human trafficking fulfills a number of goals, including providing structure to human trafficking investigations and underscoring the organizational commitment to combat this crime.  The policy can address such issues as organizational resources; referencing relevant legislation and supporting internal governance; investigative format; overarching concepts for victims and offenders.  The internal policy is the opportunity for the leadership team to voice the extent of their commitment in their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Provide training /  Training provision

There are many aspects to the crime of human trafficking that are not intuitive to police officers, and there are many aspects of the behavior of offenders and victims that is counter-intuitive.  Victims that are hostile because they perceive the police as not their protector but rather their enemy; offenders who portray themselves as victims, or perhaps offenders of a different crime (an assault on a sex trafficking victim may be presented as domestic violence; or an assault on a labour trafficking victim may be portrayed as a work place dispute.)

Therefore, while general awareness training may be required across the organization, additional specialized training for front line officers; supervisors and investigators as well as specialized units, may also be required.  The extent and depth of such training underscores that organizational commitment to this issue and the professionalism of the organization’s specialized response.

Establishing specialized capabilities

Studies undertaken by the U.S. National Institute of Justice suggest that policing organizations with specialized human trafficking investigative capabilities have been more successful in combatting human trafficking within their jurisdictions.  However, studies undertaken in Canada show that the placement of human trafficking investigative units plays a large role in how the crime is perceived and what types of human trafficking investigations are undertaken.

Although human trafficking is about the exploitation of people for labour or services, many jurisdictions, including Canada and the United States, focused principally on sex trade trafficking in their legislation and their enforcement.  Many groups around the globe attribute different numbers to victim populations, with wildly different values.  Some advocates suggesting that human trafficking in the sex trade is vastly disproportionate to labour, and others suggesting that labour far outweighs trafficking in the sex trade.

Police leaders should be cognizant that human trafficking in many forms may exist within their jurisdiction, and that placement of their specialized unit should reflect this broad spectrum of investigative options.  A specialized human trafficking unit that is placed in a sex crime unit will likely see human trafficking through the lens or schema of a sex crime investigator.  A study found that one police service in this circumstance only investigated human trafficking amongst sex trade workers and the agency had no reports or investigation of labour trafficking, reminding us of Maslov’s idea that “if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Human trafficking investigations may well be linked to organized crime, money laundering, asset forfeiture, sex trade and labour abuse, and their investigative skill set and organizational placement should reflect those attributes.  Police leaders should be cognizant of the breadth of human trafficking crimes as well as the existing investigative lens that events will pass through, and to consider specialized unit placement with these factors in mind.

Next, we’ll look at community impact.

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