CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. — Virginia State Police has partnered with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Virginia Trucking Association to try to raise awareness and bring an end to human trafficking.
CBS 6 caught up with troopers at the Interstate 95 Northbound Rest Area in Caroline County on Monday, which is one of several rest stops and truck stops where State Police will be out in full force this week hoping to talk to drivers about the importance of keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior while they’re traveling.
"This is one of the most horrific crimes and number wise, it may be pushing to the top of the more major issues we deal with along with our drug cartels and distribution of that," Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said.
Their efforts are called "Operation Safe Passage."
"It’s so tough to identify," said Settle. "The indicators are not always obvious."
Combating human trafficking in the Commonwealth is something Governor Glenn Youngkin has taken up as an important issue.
On his first day in office, he issued Executive Order Seven, which established a commission to prevent human trafficking and provide support to victims.
"We're building up the resources as we're going to take this on, and also, it's something that's continuing," Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Robert Mosier said.
State Police said they are in the process of creating their own division of troopers solely dedicated to this issue because they’ve seen a rise in reports of human trafficking over the past few years.
"There’s more attention, and there’s more motivation to clear this problem than I’ve ever seen in my 37 years," said Settle. "It has gotten more awareness over the past five to 10 years, but right now what’s going on at this given time, I think the awareness is there. And it takes political willpower to put resources there, and we are glad we are a part of this solution."
According to Homeland Security Investigations, more than 2,300 individuals were arrested nationwide in connection with human trafficking last year.
The nonprofit, Polaris Project, noted in 2019, there were 179 reported cases of trafficking and 77 traffickers identified in Virginia alone.
Operation Safe Passage includes a partnership with the Virginia Trucking Association, as these men and women travel thousands of miles a week and can play a big role in identifying potential victims, according to police.
Dale Bennett, President and CEO of the Virginia Trucking Association, said 1.3 million truck drivers nationwide have actually been trained on how to identify and report human trafficking.
"The men and women in trucking are family, and they have family members and children that could potentially become the victim of this," said Bennett. "They have a duty to respond to that."
The Department of Homeland Security and State Police said the sooner you are able to identify behaviors of human trafficking, the sooner you’re able to report that information to police, and the sooner they are able to react.
Troopers will also be conducting routine motor carrier inspections during the course of Operation Safe Passage.
The operation continues through Wednesday.