WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – The Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force, spearheaded by the Pound Ridge Police Department, the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA), My Sisters’ Place and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, has unveiled a plan to develop a multi-agency anti-trafficking protocol.
Pound Ridge Town Board Member Ali Boak, who is also co-founder and president of IOFA and special advisor to the Task Force, will lead the group through the process of protocol development.
“The process of developing the protocol is nearly as important as the outcome document itself,” she said. “We will work as a group to closely examine the role and responsibilities of each agency when a case of human trafficking is identified.”
Human trafficking investigation often requires joint cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies as well as social service providers.
“The launch of our county’s Anti-Trafficking Task Force represents our first county-wide unified response to trafficking,” said Audrey Stone, second deputy district attorney and chief of the special prosecutions division for the Westchester County DA’s office. “Our success in tracking offenders and prosecuting traffickers will be enhanced through the Task Force’s joint work and cooperation.”
Nicholas Sensley, the anti-human trafficking strategy and development consultant for Humanity United, spoke to the task force this week about his experience developing task forces around the world.
“It’s encouraging to see the unity and interdependence of the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force,” he said. “The essential seal for continuity and dependable resourcefulness is an operational protocol."
According to Karen Cheeks-Lomax, executive director of My Sister’s Place, creating protocols and guidelines will help ensure the rights and needs of trafficking victims and pave the way for law-enforcement agencies to collaborate with social service providers.
“To ensure a victim-centered response, it’s critical that task force members have in place a set of guidelines about how law enforcement and social service providers, such as My Sisters’ Place, will work in collaboration to protect the rights of potentially trafficked persons and meet their needs once they are identified,” she said.
The protocol comes just days after victims of sex trafficking in Westchester filed a lawsuit against the man convicted of luring them into his home, ostensibly to work as professional assitants, and then sexually abusing them over a long period of time.
Development of the protocol is slated to begin this spring but the group will also continue its efforts to train first responders across the county. The task force has trained more than 300 law enforcement agents, hospital workers, social workers, ambulance drivers and other professionals likely to encounter potential victims of human trafficking.
Members of the Task Force include Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, State Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department of Labor, Westchester County Association of Police Chiefs, Westchester County Family Justice Center (FJC), Westchester County Department of Public Safety Westchester County Department of Probation, Yonkers Police Department, Yorktown Police Department, Westchester County Office for Women, Port Chester Police Department, Peekskill Police Department New Rochelle Police Department Mount Vernon Police Department, White Plains Police Department, Pound Ridge Police Department, Mount Kisco Police Department, Child Welfare Training Academy, International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA), My Sisters’ Place, Hispanic Resource Center, Victim Assistance Services and Hudson River HealthCare.