by Bill Demarest
As football fans and local pubs are getting ready for their 2014 Super Bowl parties, police in Rockland are part of the massive effort to ensure public safety in New York and New Jersey on the day of the big game and to combat one of the dark secrets of the Super Bowl – human trafficking.
Investigators are watching for clues – and hoping for tips from the public – that will help them uncover illicit sex operations that take advantage of the Super Bowl to make large sums of cash by forcing women, girls and boys into prostitution. While hotels and motels in the immediate area of the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, are the logical targets for human trafficking investigations, Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said the illicit sex trade spreads out for miles from the Super Bowl in an attempt to take advantage of the influx of travelers who have come to the region.
Falco said the Rockland County Intelligence Center – the local data clearinghouse that ties together efforts of investigators from throughout Rockland – is operating around-the-clock this weekend. Police at the center are watching for information that could uncover human trafficking efforts, as well as possible terrorism threats.
“It’s only 26 miles from the county to the stadium,” said Falco. “We are close to everything, which means we have to be on alert.”
Super Bowl Sunday already means local, county and state police officers are stepping up efforts to enforce anti-DWI laws, but Falco said police in Rockland are part of the effort targeting human trafficking and watching for possible terrorism activity. Falco said police are watching for suspicious trucks and vans, and police are also armed with gear that can detect unusual amounts of radiation.
While there have been no “credible threats” of terrorism acts connected to the Super Bowl, Falco said a wide variety of precautions has even included checking local min-storage facilities for suspicious activity.
In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the Rockland County Intelligence Center and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office created a task force to focus on key law enforcement issues tied to the championship game. Based on the experience from police in communities that have previously hosted the Super Bowl, that task force began an outreach effort designed to spot human trafficking activity.
“It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that human trafficking has become one of the biggest dark secrets of the Super Bowl,” Falco said.
Falco said detectives visited motels and hotels throughout Rockland County, briefing managers and staff on what signs to watch for that could indicate their business is being used for the illegal sex trade and possibly human trafficking. Additionally, Falco said posters were placed throughout Rockland – including at train stations and bus stops – encouraging the public to call a special tip line if they believe they have encountered human trafficking.
The tip line is 1-877-224-6835 (1-877-RCINTEL).
Police departments throughout Rockland have also been distributing the posters and using social media to seek the public’s help.
“There are some things we know to look for,” Falco said. “If someone shows up at a hotel with young girls and boys and they don’t have an luggage – right away that’s raises a question. The detectives have talked to all the hotels and motels about what to look for and how to alert us about a possible problem.”
While hosting the Super Bowl is generally viewed as a huge economic boost, Falco said police throughout the nation have found that the crowds and money that come with the Super Bowl have also made it a center of attention for criminals who are out to make money through selling counterfeit NFL goods, bogus tickets, running a variety of scams and prostitution operations. Falco said the Super Bowl has become that nation’s biggest driver of human trafficking, especially with young girls and boys forced into the sex trade.
In Rockland, the District Attorney’s Office coordinated with police in Texas and New Jersey to conduct training sessions for local police on the issue of human trafficking. Falco said detectives have also been working directly with police in New York City and in New Jersey to focus on safety issues related to the Super Bowl.
Law enforcement efforts have led to some high-profile arrests connected with the Super Bowl over the past week, including the break up of a prostitution ring in Brooklyn and the seizure of $21.6 million worth of fake Super Bowl goods. Falco said police assigned to Rockland’s task force are out today continuing efforts related to the Super Bowl, including the search for human traffickers.
Falco said that anyone who believes they may have information related to human trafficking should immediately call the task force hotline.
In Rockland, a new federal indictment last week detailed how a girl visiting relatives in Haverstraw became entangled in human trafficking. According to the FBI, the girl was forced into prostitution at a Nyack motel and then taken to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where she was used in prostitution operations. A Haverstraw man and three others are charged in connection with this human trafficking incident.
Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco with one of the Human Trafficking posters place throughout Rockland County.
Bill Demarest blogs about news in Nyack and Rockland County at NyackFreePress.blogspot.com.