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Exploring the Impact of Law Enforcement in Addressing Human Trafficking: Part Two

With Florida currently ranking third and Jacksonville ranked at forty-eight in the nation for human trafficking (HT), addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach through the coordination of national agencies, our state government, law enforcement efforts, victim support services, and community engagement.


Florida has recently taken robust measures to combat HT.  One of the containment measures is the 100 Percent Club launched by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody in 2022 to recognize companies taking proactive steps to train employees on the signs of HT.  Recently, the Florida Department of Education announced that Florida is the first state in the nation to require K-12 students to be instructed on child trafficking.   The curriculum teaches students multiple topics, from prevention to online safety. 


As our state continues to find ways to combat this issue, I wanted to learn how our local law enforcement agencies are addressing the problem. 


I met with Chief of Police Jeffrey Tambasco from the Fernandina Police Department for an engaging and educational conversation.


Chief Tambasco has been in law enforcement for 24 years.  Community Outreach is one of the department’s priorities, and programs have been developed to engage, promote, and maintain positive relationships with the police department.


I  asked if the department has seen any signs of HT within Fernandina Beach.   He responded, “ I haven’t seen any evidence of organized HT, and there are several reasons.”   This issue often exists in areas with a high concentration of agriculture and tourism. He continued to explain,  “We don’t have a large agricultural industry in our area, and the hotels such as the Ritz and Omni have strict policies to ward off forced labor.” 


He acknowledged the HT problem and their investigative efforts in Jacksonville and Florida and added that the department collaborates with other departments when needed. While the staff complies with the state-required HT annual training, the department requires additional department-wide training and testing. 


Chief Tambasco stressed that if something doesn’t seem right, call the police department.  The department responds to every call and takes each call seriously.  He wanted to be clear, “ One out of ten calls may save or affect someone’s life, ” which is a powerful message.


Next, I contacted the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) to explore how Sheriff Bill Leeper and the Sheriff’s Office are actively addressing the pervasive problem of HT.  


NCSO  Detective Josh Carter is assigned to the North Florida Intercept Task Force, whose sole focus is conducting investigations to arrest human traffickers and those who are involved in child exploitation, as well as to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking.  The task force operates out of the Department of Homeland Security in Jacksonville. It comprises Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Clay, and Putnam County Sherriff Offices and state and federal partners.


This level of coordination between law enforcement/government requires additional resources due to a funding gap from the U.S. government.  The resources received from non-profit entities, like Operation Light Shine, are essential in helping to provide training resources, salary, and benefits that may not otherwise be provided. This unique relationship allows for the immediate ability to share resources for investigations into HT and Child Exploitation.


Through these coordinated efforts, such as in the 4-day Operation Keystroke, law enforcement was able to apprehend individuals who utilized the internet and social media platforms to prey on our children and solicit them for sex.  


Sheriff Bill Leeper, who also is the current Florida Sheriffs Association President,  recently attended and spoke at a press conference at the Florida Capital hosted by One More Child to highlight the fight against child sex trafficking.  One More Child is bringing awareness to how widespread child sex trafficking has become while calling upon policymakers to support legislation designed to protect minors better and help survivors.


The third part of the series examines some of the warning signs to watch for and explores what happens when the survivor leaves the life of trafficking.


If you want to learn more, please visit these sites and join me in part three of the series:


Fernandina Policy Department 904-277-7300

To report cases, call the Nation Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888

Or text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE)



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