Examples: How Some Task Forces Manage Information Sharing
Case logs: The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force developed a Human Trafficking Case Log as a means to track, organize, and collaborate on cases worked by multiple law enforcement agencies on the Task Force.
Explaining need to know: The Western District of New York Task Force struggled in its early stages to strike the correct balance of information sharing related to potential law enforcement action. The NGO partner was able to critically assess what specific information was imperative to readying itself for an appropriate response to victims in crisis. The NGO requested a general timeline (end of next week vs. an exact date or time), estimated number of victims, their gender and language, and whether or not any minors would be identified. When explained, it was easy for law enforcement to understand the need to pre-plan for shelter, language, and needs specific to minors. This sharing of information resulted in a less traumatic experience for survivors, thereby building trust from the beginning of the case and making the investigation move more smoothly.
Background checks: One task force requested that the victim service provider undergo a background check so that law enforcement would feel comfortable sharing sensitive case information with this individual.
Participation in a multidisciplinary task force does not mandate open and indiscriminate communication about investigations, suspects, victims, witnesses, tactical operations, or other sensitive information. Finding a balance with information sharing and gathering can be a matter of contention among task force members.
It is not uncommon for survivors working with their attorneys to share details about their trafficking situation that may be relevant to the investigation, but they may not yet be ready to share this information with law enforcement. Similarly, law enforcement may be working actively on an operation that has the potential to affect victim service partners, but any level of disclosure about the operation may compromise the operation or place individuals in harm’s way.
While sharing too much information can compromise victims and witnesses, agencies and organizations, cases and operations, and individual members, a failure to create a safe and effective information-sharing network is counterproductive to the formation of a task force.
A Balance of Protecting and Sharing Information
Efforts to keep the group informed and likewise gather and share information within the group is a core function of the task force. Efforts should be made to strike the needed balance of protecting and sharing case information (see next section on confidentiality). Common questions to address when clarifying expectations about information sharing may include:
What type of lead time might a victim service provider expect prior to a raid being conducted?
Is a victim service provider expected to contact law enforcement whenever a potential victim is referred for screening? Is law enforcement expected to contact a victim service provider each time a potential victim is interviewed?
What information might a victim service provider need from law enforcement to prepare adequately prior to law enforcement action?
When the victim service provider learns information relevant to the safety of the victim, do they inform law enforcement? If law enforcement learns information related to the safety of the victim, how much do they share with the victim service provider?
What is the media policy for all task force members regarding a specific case?
How will task force members communicate regarding data related to victim identification and prosecutions?
In what forum will discussions about ongoing cases be held? Is there a committee dedicated to this? Are ad hoc meetings to address specific cases limited to those individuals working on the case? When do those meetings begin, how often will they be held at different stages of a case, and when will they cease?
Tips for Information Sharing
Ensure clear communication among task force members about organizational confidentiality policies and procedures early in the process. This is crucial and helps to further clarify member roles and responsibilities.
Establish a clear protocol for handling tips made to task force members. Identifying one point person to evaluate and disseminate this information can assist in maintaining confidentiality, protecting victim safety, and ensuring lack of duplication of work. For example, one task force funneled all tips through the USAO victim-witness coordinator, who sent out an e-mail with the identified potential trafficker’s name to all Core Team members. Any member who had information on that individual met within the week to establish a lead agency and open an official task force case.
Establish understanding and agreement about what type of information is appropriate for open sharing and what is not.
Hold key information exchanges and discussions in task force meetings on topics that should be developed and vetted by the group, such as:
Human trafficking trends and developments in the region;
Debriefs of closed cases;
Issues concerning laws and resources to combat trafficking;
Suspicious behaviors or practices in the community for which there is not yet a response underway;
Lessons learned from successful or not so successful operations;
Ways to improve cooperation and collaboration;
Information provided by victims, clients, witnesses, or suspects that may serve as training materials;
Rumors that tend to divide or create barriers among the team;
Concerns expressed to individual members of the community to which the group may be able to offer a more comprehensive response;
Issues with the media including the use of victim names, photos, and information about current cases; and
Confidentiality agreements and whether to have task force members sign one.