Jeanette Nuñez, Florida Highway Patrol Hold Round Table to Highlight Efforts Against Human Trafficking

Last week, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) hosted a roundtable discussion with law enforcement leaders about efforts to combat human trafficking. At the roundtable, law enforcement officers and sheriffs from Citrus, Pasco, Sumter, and Hernando Counties joined together to discuss the importance of tracking down human traffickers and holding them accountable for their heinous crimes.

“Governor DeSantis and I are committed to doing everything we can to end human trafficking in Florida,” said Nuñez. “Today, we heard from our law enforcement partners about their efforts to hold these perpetrators accountable. I am proud that our administration has exposed these vicious crimes and criminals for what they are. As we highlight Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I want to commend our law enforcement agencies for their continued commitment, sacrifice, and courage to combat these criminal enterprises that threaten the safety and wellbeing of Floridians.”

“Interdicting human traffickers and drug smugglers entering our state is a top priority of the Florida Highway Patrol,” said Dave Kerner, the interim executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “It is a critical mission that demands success, but we cannot do it alone.”

“Stamping out human trafficking and drug trafficking in Florida is a top priority of FDLE and our law enforcement partners throughout the state,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass. “Not only do these crimes dehumanize their victims and destroy lives, but they are also often drivers of other criminal activity. We are grateful to our partners for helping us to identify criminal actors and get them off the streets, to rescue victims of these horrific crimes, to dismantle trafficking networks and organizations, and to prevent trafficking activity from other countries or states from taking hold in our great state. Let me put would-be traffickers on notice: if you commit these crimes in our state, we will seek you out and bring you down.”

“When dealing with human trafficking, especially in this context, there are two types of people involved. First are heartless criminals who care about nothing but furthering their criminal enterprises. Second are those who are taken advantage of by those same criminals, often used to further all aspects of their criminal organizations,” said Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis. “If we care about the safety of our local communities, it is imperative that we all take this issue seriously and work together to address the unrelenting burden this is having on Florida. Fortunately, we have great leadership in Tallahassee that clearly understands this concern. I know I can speak for my fellow sheriffs when saying that we appreciate the partnership we have with both Governor DeSantis and Lt. Governor Nuñez, while working together to keep our local communities safe.”

“I am proud and thankful that our governor recognizes the increase in human trafficking, human smuggling, and drug trafficking (specifically fentanyl) that is occurring in our communities here in Florida,” said Sumter County Sheriff William “Bill” Farmer. “This is a problem that transcends our individual counties, and we will come together to defeat this issue.”

“Human and drug trafficking are both issues I am committed to ending,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. “Both of these horrific crimes prey on the most vulnerable members of our community and I am thankful that Governor DeSantis and Lt. Governor Nuñez fully support law enforcement in our efforts to end these heinous acts which victimize our community.”

“Eradicating illicit drug trafficking and putting a stop to the unconscionable suffering caused by human trafficking is more imperative than it has ever been,” said Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast. “When we look at weapons of mass destruction like fentanyl, the peril is real, the threat is deadly, and the consequences have a rippling effect in our society. The same holds true for human trafficking – organized crime’s manipulative and oppressive enterprise that disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities, vulnerable migrants and children. It’s crucial for our state’s law enforcement agencies to collaborate in a mutual effort to combat both of these epidemics that have become so widespread in our nation and around the globe. We’ve long since identified this issue, now we need to uniformly address it. I’m thankful for the strong leadership from Governor DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor Nunez to attack this problem on all fronts. If we don’t, we risk the future of our communities and ultimately the welfare of our entire state.”

In 2022, at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and FHP’s Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU) joined forces to create a human trafficking and drug smuggling strike force with a focus on catching these criminals along major roadways in Florida. These FDLE and FHP operations have resulted in 206 felony charges, including human smuggling and drug smuggling charges. FDLE and FHP will continue to partner with local sheriff’s offices to focus on ways to catch human traffickers and hold them accountable for their heinous crimes.

In addition, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and FHP have teamed up with state 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.

If you believe you are a victim of Human Trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline or call them at 1-888-373-7888. If you suspect a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.

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