By Charles Miller, MTI Contributor
Being in law enforcement and the military over the last thirty or so years, I have served in a variety of positions. I have worked in patrol positions, investigative positions, and tactical positions. I have had many successes and failures during that time but lately have come to a place of self-reflection.
One area that I have started to examine is my time as a Human Trafficking Investigator within my county. I noticed that many of the lessons I learned during that time have shaped my career and my perspective on law enforcement.
Everything Was About Me
As a younger police officer, I regret certain aspects of my attitude in the way I approached my profession. I am embarrassed by a comment I used to make to my peers and my supervisors. The comment was, “The only thing I care about is anything dealing with kids, everything else is all about me.” To put this in perspective, I worked on anything dealing with kids to the utmost of my ability to bring justice to those kids. In everything else, I worked it to the utmost of my ability to bring attention to myself.
I did this for a variety of reasons. I really cared about the children as they seemed to me to be the most vulnerable victims.
But for other investigations, my primary motivation was furthering my career. I am embarrassed by that to this day. These differing investigation approaches did not affect my work, but did reflect my motivation.
As I aged and had more experience, my perspectives and motivation began to change. Then I was assigned to my county’s human trafficking task force and this assignment accelerated and solidified those changes.
The human trafficking assignment was cross between narcotics and crimes against children.
Approximately 50 percent of the victims my task force contacted were under the age of 18. The nature of the investigations led to a lot of undercover work.
Just prior to my assignment, I went to my state’s human trafficking investigator’s course. During this course, I was presented with a “Victim Focused” perspective to approach these crimes.
This “victim focused” approach mandated that we conduct our investigations in a manner that was in the best interest of the victim. Our main priority was first taking care of the victim and next, the investigation flowed from this care.
I was provided a credit card by my agency to purchase food, clothing, and lodging to meet the victims’ basic needs. One of my partners allowed a victim to sleep for three hours before she interviewed the victim.
We maintained this perspective throughout my assignment with the task force. Soon I realized this idea is why most of us became law enforcement officers – to help people. Somewhere along the way many of us, myself included, lose this perspective. The “Victims Focus” course and my Human Trafficking Task Force assignment taught me that periodically I needed to reconnect myself to why I became a police officer.
Actions, not Words
Those of us in law enforcement can, “talk a good game.” We tend to pay lip service to issues to placate shareholders within our spheres of influence.
We do this for a variety of reasons; lack of resources, lack of concern for the individuals involved, etc..
In my office, I had a Chief who oversaw Victim Services and showed with her actions how much she cared for those who she would never meet. She spent her time and energy to apply for a grant to pay for all my purchases for victims involved in human trafficking.
When I was in the field buying food for the victims involved in this crime, I would always let the victims choose where to eat. I knew that their traffickers made all their decisions for them, and I wanted to give the victims freedom to choose a restaurant.
My Victim Services Chief gave me the resources to give them this freedom. In one situation, the funding had run out, but I was not notified about it. My team took a victim to eat at Claim Jumper where she decided she wanted to eat.
The victim ordered one of those big Cowboy steaks that cost about $70.00 and ate the whole steak! Our fiscal office took issue with the purchase, and I explained to them my reasoning. Victims Services ended up paying for it because they understood my idea.
My Chief led her bureau in a way that showed her actions measured up to her words and I have never forgotten it. I believe that law enforcement would be in a much better place today if we lived this principle out daily.
New Officers’ Idealism
I have started teaching human trafficking investigations at my local basic law enforcement academy. I initially started teaching because my county’s task force has lost some momentum since I left, and the academy did not have an instructor. I taught believing that the new officers needed an introduction to the topic and the victims’ needed officers who were aware of it. I quickly realized that this was true, but I also needed to see the new officers’ idealism.
I start off the class with a warning that the topic is not politically correct. The officers will see things that are unsettling, and they will hear me swear throughout the presentation. I present it as a conversation with them about human trafficking not as someone who is better than them but as someone who only has more time in the profession.
The conversations that have come from this instruction have been incredible. I need to remember the idealism associated with a new officer who has shiny brass, spit shined boots, and the newness of the profession has not worn off yet. I see that the new generation of officers really want to make a difference and those of us that are “old salts” need to nourish that idealism. We need to remember our own idealism when we were in their shoes and live that out in our decisions as we lead them into the future. With good leadership today, they will perform their duties as officers so much better than we did at their age. Our profession desperately needs to have these lessons ingrained in it.
These lessons are invaluable for our profession to internalize as we move into the future. We need to go back to the basics of our profession to save it. We protect those who cannot even make decisions for themselves about what they are going to eat. These lessons change society’s perception of us as the ideas permeate everything we do as organizations. These lessons should be at the forefront of every decision we make whether it is at the administration level, the investigative level, or the patrol level.
One of my fellow task force members taught a class to a community group on human trafficking. Prior to teaching, he was warned that there were two individuals in the class who had expressed a dislike for law enforcement in front of the class. He taught the class and was confronted by the individuals as he was trying to leave. They did not confront him in a negative manner though, they both told him that they did not realize law enforcement did what he described. In a two-hour presentation, outlining these lessons, my partner changed two individuals’ perspectives on law enforcement.
I remind myself to keep these lessons close to my heart often and hope that you will also.
Charles is a Supervising Investigator with over 20 years of law enforcement experience in a variety of assignments.
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