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Post-Operational Phase

After the case becomes public, the investigative team moves into the post-operational phase of the investigation.

  • Interview victims and witnesses. One of the most important aspects of this coordination lies in the proper interviewing of victims and witnesses with sensitivity. It remains critically important that such questioning be done in a victim-centered manner that places equal value in protecting both the criminal case and the needs of any potential victims. See Section 5.2 on Victim Interview and Preparation.
  • Support access to immigration relief. When investigating a human trafficking case involving foreign nationals, make sure to access the resources available to law enforcement through short-term immigration relief, including Continued Presence, in the immediate aftermath of identification. Once you continue the investigation, victim service providers and victims may come to ask for a letter of certification to support a T or U visa application. For law enforcement officers inexperienced with the procedure of signing a law enforcement endorsement form (I-914B) who may have questions about their obligation to sign, determine which officer or supervisor in their agency has experience with these procedures. For example, domestic violence units typically have experience in assisting victims with immigration-related law enforcement endorsements. A typical concern among law enforcement officers and agencies when signing the endorsement form (I-914B) is that the officer or agency is conferring or granting immigration relief directly to the victim. This is not the case. Signing the I-914B merely states that the signing officer believes the foreign national is a victim of human trafficking or other type of violent crime and can be considered for immigration relief by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Law enforcement officers should be aware that if, after signing the I-914B form, new evidence arises that shows the individual is not a victim of trafficking or other violent crime, the law enforcement endorsement can be rescinded by the signing agency. This area of responsibility is typically unknown unless investigators are working in these units. If this knowledge cannot be found within your department, look to larger agencies in your region or contact your local U.S. Attorney’s Office if you have questions. Also, work with your task force immigration attorney to learn more about these procedures. This is a very important topic to include in training for all task force law enforcement representatives. (See Section 4.4 on Legal Needs for more information).
  • Develop a case that helps corroborate the victim’s account. Ultimately, the goal of this process is to develop an independent case against the offenders by finding non-victim witnesses and physical and documentary evidence that corroborate the victim’s account. Such evidence helps to dispel traditional myths about human trafficking victims, underscore victim vulnerability, or explain the forensic effects of human trafficking on its survivors (e.g., explanations of a victim’s prior inconsistent statements, unusual courtroom demeanor, or the trauma-bonds that keep victims from leaving abuse or that make them return to it). In addition to evidence of force, fraud, and coercion, investigators collect corroborative evidence to establish the offenders’ use of seduction, indoctrination, isolation, confinement, and surveillance to manipulate and control their victims.
  • International investigations. When investigating a case involving foreign national victims who were recruited overseas, much of the evidence to support your investigation may be found overseas. Focusing on corroborating the circumstances of the recruitment, the victim’s background, and threats against family members are important aspects of the case. Collecting documentation about visa applications, money remittances, birth certificates, and other identifying documentation is also important. Many corroborating witnesses can be found overseas, including victims’ family members, outcry witnesses, prior or subsequent victims, or co-conspirators. Federal law enforcement task force members and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have counterparts in their respective agencies located in these countries and can offer assistance in complex investigations.
  • Continue investigations post-arrest. Many of the key portions of an investigation occur during the post-operational phase, so investigators must continue their commitment even though the offenders have already been arrested. The work of the investigative team includes the following activities:
    • Using overt means of investigation (such as canvassing relevant areas for new witnesses).
    • Taking post-arrest statements from offenders.
    • Executing secondary search warrants.
    • Conducting forensic exams of computers, cell phones, and other documentary and physical exhibits (including DNA testing where useful).
    • Debriefing informants and victims.
    • Preparing discovery for court.
    • Supporting trial and sentencing proceedings.
    • Coordinating with core victim service providers.

There are more opportunities to learn trafficking-specific activities toward investigation in various online and in-person trainings. See the resource page to learn more. It is important that the agency’s leadership encourages officers to attend human trafficking-specific training.