Kan. county DOC joins 'historic' task force to fight human trafficking

The Kaw Valley Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force will conduct combined, multi-agency criminal investigations to disrupt human trafficking organizations


By Tim Hrenchir
The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.
        
TOPEKA, Kan. — Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay hasn't taken anyone to trial on human trafficking charges but said he knows the crime is being committed in this area.

Prosecutors and local law enforcement in recent years have worked to put themselves in a position to more effectively carry out the challenging task of fighting human trafficking, Kagay said at a morning news conference.

"I do believe we're in a position now where we can prioritize this," he said. "We can make a significant impact."

District Attorney Mike Kagay was joined by corrections and law enforcement officials who stood behind him Wednesday as he announced the formation of the Kaw Valley Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.
District Attorney Mike Kagay was joined by corrections and law enforcement officials who stood behind him Wednesday as he announced the formation of the Kaw Valley Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. (Twitter/Topeka Police Department)

Kagay was joined by corrections and law enforcement officials who stood behind him Wednesday as he announced the formation of the Kaw Valley Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.

"The creation of this task force represents an historic moment for northeast Kansas in our fight against human trafficking," he said. "This step signifies our collective commitment to invest our time, resources and focus in combatting and dismantling all forms of human trafficking in our communities."

Wednesday's conference took place at the Law Enforcement Center in Topeka, where representatives of the agencies involved took turns signing an agreement forming the task force.

"I'm proud to stand here with these gentlemen," Kagay said.

The LEC was previously the site of an April 2018 news conference in which Kagay joined 11 other officials from local, state and federal agencies and the Topeka Rescue Mission in declaring war on human trafficking.

Though the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery in 1865, Kagay said slavery still exists in the U.S. in the form of involuntary servitude through labor and sex trafficking.

Human traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to exercise control over their victims, Kagay said.

"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery," he said. "The exploitation, sex trafficking and forced labor that constitute these offenses are systems of evil. They are an affront to the law, to our collective moral conscience and to our shared principles of liberty and human dignity."

Kagay has filed charges on between five and 10 human trafficking cases since becoming district attorney in 2017, he said Wednesday. None went to trial.

"It clearly is happening," Kagay said. "We know that it's happening. but there are a number of challenges specific to investigation of this act."

Those challenges include getting and maintaining the cooperation of the victim throughout a long judicial process, Kagay said.

He added that human traffickers "don't care about county lines."

Kagay said that's illustrated by the fact that anti-human trafficking sting operations done by the Osage County Sheriff's Office have at times bled over into Shawnee County, which highlights the need for prosecutors and law enforcement to work collectively across jurisdictions to provide a comprehensive response to human trafficking.

The newly formed task force will consist of the Shawnee County District Attorney's Office; Shawnee County Department of Corrections; Kansas Bureau of Investigation; Topeka, Washburn University and Topeka USD 501 police departments; and Shawnee, Jackson and Osage county sheriff's offices.

The task force's purpose is to conduct combined, multi-agency criminal investigations to disrupt area human trafficking organizations and to provide a more comprehensive public safety agency response to the growing threat of human trafficking operations, Kagay said.

The task's force's primary mission is to create a centralized network that will provide a collaborative and innovative working environment for multi-agency intelligence sharing and combined operational responses to intercede in human trafficking operations in the jurisdictions involved, Shawnee County Sheriff Brian C. Hill's office said on social media.

The arrangement put in place Wednesday is historic "because this has never happened before" in the Shawnee County area, Kagay said.

He said he'd created a position in his office for a full-time human trafficking investigator, who is embedded with the Shawnee County Sheriff's Office.

Kagay added that Hill's office plans to create a tip line for the public to call to share information related specifically to human trafficking. Cash rewards are to be available for tips leading to the arrest and prosecution of people involved in human trafficking.

Next: The role of corrections in the fight against human trafficking
    
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