With dozens of Maryland youths victimized each year by human traffickers, Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday proposed new initiatives to fight the crime.
“For four years we have been working to combat the criminal gang enterprises that are terrorizing our communities,” Hogan said at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services building in Rockville. “One of their heinous crimes is human trafficking … As a father I’m heartbroken for these daughters and sons who are being victimized and brutalized.”
The Republican governor, who is seeking re-election, signed an executive order creating an anti-human trafficking director position in the Governor's Office of Crime Control And Prevention. The director will be charged with coordinating services for victims and advising law enforcement officials on responses to human trafficking. Hogan pointed to recent trafficking cases in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County as underscoring the need for increased attention on the issue.
Hogan also announced nearly $10 million in funding to address the crime, including $5 million to provide human trafficking victims with direct services such as emergency shelters, a 24-hour talk-line, street outreach and legal advocacy; $4 million in grants to 13 counties to target gangs and violent criminal networks; and $500,000 to the University of Maryland to help create a Maryland Crime Research and Innovation Center, which will serve as a hub for developing efforts to fight human trafficking.
Additionally, the governor announced a pilot project with the Maryland Criminal Intelligence Network in which the U.S. attorney's office, Baltimore Police Department, Prince George’s County Police Department and the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center will collaborate in “real time” to bust human trafficking networks.
He said Montgomery County law enforcement has made several arrests of human traffickers in recent weeks.
Leggett said the event was not political, but he added that Hogan’s actions as governor have been “favorable” for Montgomery County, citing his support of the Purple Line light rail and pursuit of new corporate headquarters for Amazon.
Hogan also pledged to reintroduce legislation to categorize human trafficking as a crime of violence in Maryland, a move that could lead to increased prison time for offenders. A similar bill, introduced this past General Assembly session, died in the House of Delegates.
Data collected on human-trafficking cases suggests the problem is getting worse here.
An average of 66 youths are trafficked each year in Maryland, with Baltimore being the hardest hit jurisdiction, according to the Maryland Safe Harbor Workgroup, a body created by the General Assembly to study the issue. The state says that number represents cases reported to law enforcement, and the true number is likely higher.
In 2014, a state task force conducted a survey of victims who received services in the state and identified 396 survivors of human trafficking, including at least 124 who were trafficked as children.
From July 2013 to October 2017, more than 350 child maltreatment reports of suspected child sex trafficking cases were made to Maryland’s 24 local Social Services agencies, including more than 290 individual suspected minor victims.
Maryland has one of the higher volumes of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which officials say is due in part to the state’s central location among metro areas that traffickers drive through via highways.