This week, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and the Florida Highway Patrol hosted a roundtable discussion with local North Florida law enforcement about efforts to combat human trafficking and drug trafficking around the I-10, I-75 intersection.
At the roundtable, law enforcement officers and leadership discussed the importance of interdicting human traffickers and drug smugglers when they pass through Florida communities, and the efforts local law enforcement and the state of Florida are already taking to crack down on these illicit activities. Watch the full roundtable here.
“Governor DeSantis and I appreciate our law enforcement and their daily efforts to keep drug smugglers and human traffickers out of Florida,” said Nuñez. “Unfortunately, we are in a position where we have to step up our efforts even more because politicians in D.C. and in some poorly-led states would rather leave these criminals on the street instead of putting them in prison, where they belong. Our administration will continue to support the law enforcement officers and highway patrol officers who are keeping our communities safe.”
“Interdicting traffickers and smugglers who enter our state with the intent to do harm is critical more now than ever, and a job that we cannot do alone,” said Florida Highway Patrol Director Colonel Gene Spaulding. “Florida’s law enforcement arm is strong, and our effective collaboration across multiple agencies is the envy of the nation. We thank Governor DeSantis for his strong support of the men and women who wear the uniform, and Lieutenant Governor Nuñez’s leadership in bringing key law enforcement leaders together today to share tactics and identify additional avenues to keep Florida safe.”
“The unique thing about law enforcement is that when we identify a problem or the community identifies a problem, we go at it,” said Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter. “This is a collective problem with the guns and drugs, the human trafficking, but putting it together for prosecution — but this is where we run into issues with jurisdictions. A lot of citizens don’t realize that your local and state authorities are not allowed to enforce federal laws. When people are here illegally, we do not have a mechanism in our system to detain those people because we cannot enforce federal laws. We have rules and laws that we have to follow, but criminals have no boundaries when it comes to breaking the law.”
“Suwannee County is a small county, and we have to work with what we have. Some of what we are seeing locally is that human trafficking is coming back with the drugs,” said Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John. “When you make a traffic stop and you open a door and you have drugs, criminal activities that you find just from stopping someone for speeding. There are various ways that we in Suwannee County are trying to combat these issues that are occurring.”
“When you are talking about a county with the numbers that we have, just three overdoses touches everybody,” said Baker County Sherriff Scotty Rhoden. “It is pivotal to target traffickers and charge them, which is why we have done some things in our area electronically and training our narcotics guys to look at a case as a homicide down the road.”
“Trafficking, drugs and weapons go hand-in-hand but the criminals have no jurisdictional boundaries and we do,” said Lake City Chief of Police Gerald Butler. “We are really focusing on going out to the communities and getting our officers out there, especially the kids so they know that police officers are their friends. One thing I have been working on is getting the technology as a force multiplier and we appreciate the grant money and other assistance from the state that allows us to get and maintain that equipment.”
“Nothing is in a vacuum by itself. Human trafficking is related to other crimes and other crimes are related to additional crimes,” said FDLE Tallahassee Assistant Special Agent in Charge Keith Wilmer. “One thing that has been done throughout the 7 regions in Florida is that there are structured partnerships, coalitions, and task forces that target human trafficking and those consist of law enforcement, State and US attorney’s offices, and NGOs or community entities. The focus of these groups is not just criminality, it is looking at how to prevent human trafficking, how to take care of the victims of human trafficking and all of those affected by it. It is a collaborative effort, and it cannot be done with one simple focus.”
In 2021, FHP seized over 9,750 pounds of marijuana, 115 pounds of cocaine, over 20 pounds of heroin, over 250 pounds of methamphetamine, $4,401,352 in U.S. currency, and more than $118,814,786 in total seized contraband. Another 72.4 pounds of other types of illegal drugs and prescription medications were seized with a value of $2.8 million. Troopers seized 272 weapons with a value of $166,000 and 150 vehicles valued at more than $4.3 million. These seizures resulted in 1,168 persons arrested and 2,308 felony charges.
FHP’s Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU) consists of specially trained troopers designated as felony officers and canine handlers. These troopers are strategically assigned throughout the state to patrol the interstate system and other highways to interdict drug couriers and other criminal activity. The CIU assists other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the detection and apprehension of drug traffickers and other criminal offenders that utilize the roadways of Florida. The CIU is an active participant in various enforcement operations coordinated by the Florida Office of Drug Control. The CIU is equipped with sophisticated drug detection equipment such as fiber optic scopes, drug detection devices, electronic measuring devices, dual-purpose canines, and various other tools.
In addition, FLHSMV and FHP have teamed up with Attorney General Ashley Moody to enlist Florida’s CDL holders in our fight to end human trafficking in Florida. The Highway Heroes initiative was launched in October 2020 to train Florida’s half a million licensed commercial drivers on how to identify and report suspected human trafficking. Florida’s commercial drivers are uniquely positioned to make a difference and close loopholes to traffickers who look to use transportation systems for their personal gain. Since the launch of the initiative, more than 6,500 licensed commercial drivers, transportation employees, and FHP members have been trained on how to identify and report suspected trafficking through training provided by Truckers Against Trafficking.
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