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Task Force Models

Similar to most organizational startups, task force development usually begins with a small team building on a vision for a successful collaborative effort in combating the problem.

Leadership and structure of the task forces can vary widely, from a single individual within a police department or sheriff’s office to leadership teams comprising leaders from the major agencies on the task force. Each task force is uniquely structured to meet local needs and accommodate local dynamics.

The startup of any collaboration is the most challenging stage. Without effective direction of the process, efforts to get the task force underway may be futile. With any model outlined below, members share the initial responsibilities to:

  • Research and analyze the feasibility of forming a task force.
  • Develop the framework for task force structure, operations, roles, and membership.
  • Serve as champions and advocates for the formation of the task force.
  • Seek out funding and other support for task force operations.
  • Ensure that clear, reasonable, and achievable initial goals are set.
  • Select a task force leader.
  • Meet regularly to steer task force development.
  • Plan and coordinate the initial training sessions.

Below are a few other things to consider.

Local Law Enforcement Investigative Unit

Key Concept: Bifurcated Team Model

One creative approach is to develop two teams under the task force umbrella.

  • One team focuses on investigating and assisting foreign national victims.
  • The other team focuses on investigating and assisting U.S. citizen victims.

Service providers with funds and skills dedicated to one victim population or another are then directed to the relevant team. This also helps to keep your law enforcement partners engaged. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, for example, are not likely to engage on a task force that focuses on U.S. citizens. Issues that are relevant to both teams are shared by the task force leader.

This bifurcated model allows task forces with a high proportion of specialized members to expand their focus, engage all members, and utilize resources more effectively.

Choosing where to house the criminal investigative unit is an important decision for law enforcement on a task force. As in all criminal investigations, information and analyzed intelligence are at the core of a good investigation. Investigating human trafficking is best centered within an investigative unit that broadly focuses on the collection, aggregation, and analysis of criminal operations. The broader the view of the possibilities, the broader the net can be cast to draw in human trafficking operations.

A significant shortfall in the current levels of understanding about human trafficking, and the many admirable efforts to combat it, is the heavy emphasis on sex trafficking. Anti-prostitution and other sex crime investigative efforts tend to draw media attention and public awareness toward a narrow perspective of the crime of human trafficking. Comparable diligence must be given to discovering all forms of human trafficking in its multitude of labor venues.

Historically, many human trafficking investigative efforts are formulated out of vice units. Vice units are typically formed as public order units with a focus on such crimes as prostitution, gambling, and street-level drug crimes. The investigation of human trafficking greatly transcends this level of focus. Vice units that are assigned to oversee human trafficking cases have a tendency to focus on the area of investigation for which they are trained, resulting in the majority of those units’ human trafficking investigations being sex trafficking cases.

Investigation of human trafficking in bureaus or units that have a broader crime focus, and are linked to the collection and analysis of more diverse streams of criminal and suspicious activity, may increase the likelihood of discovering all forms of human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking in all its forms. This may include intelligence units or organized crime units.

Task forces are encouraged to dedicate law enforcement personnel to this effort by assigning and funding one or two full-time investigators who are then supported by patrol officers and an intelligence function. The core team member from local law enforcement may be that dedicated investigator, or it may be someone higher up the chain of command.

Human Trafficking Expertise

Training Resources: Contact OVC TTAC

The Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center (OVC TTAC) maintains a consultant database of subject matter experts who are available to provide consultation, training, and technical assistance to task forces, law enforcement, and victim service agencies.

Understanding the dynamics and complexities of human trafficking is particularly important in helping shape a response to the problem. At the start, agencies that will make up the task force may not have direct experience in human trafficking.

A human trafficking subject matter expert is an important resource for the task force and might come from outside of the jurisdiction. As task forces evolve and sustain activities, developing an expertise in human trafficking as part of the membership is highly recommended.

All initial task force members should, at a minimum, have some expertise in working with potential victim populations. Members should recognize why the complexities of this problem demand a multidisciplinary, collaborative, and victim-centered response and be committed to working in that way to address the issues.

Shared Responsibility and Leadership

Task Force Example: How Co-Leadership Can Work

One existing task force is co-led by senior representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the local police department, and a victim service agency, with additional core team members from FBI, HSI, the local legal aid bureau, and a workers’ rights advocacy and services organization. These entities have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that delineates each organization’s role. The team meets monthly to evaluate the progress and strategic direction of the task force.

It is important to share responsibility among law enforcement, victim service providers, and other organizations. Task force members should appear to have equal responsibility, even if leadership responsibilities are delegated to one group over another. This sends the message to the larger task force membership, community partners, and potential funders that this issue involves mutual respect and trust in the division of leadership and responsibility between law enforcement and victim service providers, as well as equal investment in the task force and equal responsibility in its operations and outcomes (see Section 3.1 for more on leadership and decisionmaking).

Task forces are generally structured in one of three ways as outlined in the next sections. It is important to note here that a significant amount of time and human resources are needed to develop a task force properly. Members will need to secure the buy-in of their leadership in order to dedicate the time needed to develop a strong task force.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Chapter 2: Forming A Task Force