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More NYPD officers assigned to unit targeting human trafficking

First Lady Chirlane McCray, left, with Carmen, 26,

First Lady Chirlane McCray, left, with Carmen, 26, a sex trafficking survivor, at a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, to announce an NYPD effort to expand efforts targeting human traffickers. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The city is putting 25 additional NYPD officers into the department’s vice unit and setting up a new hotline to go after human trafficking, officials said Wednesday.

“Make no mistake, this is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said of trafficking at a news conference where he was joined by New York City first lady Chirlane McCray.

To change the mindset of the department, O’Neill said the vice division will target pimps and customers of prostitutes who may be trafficking victims.

“We are tackling it from new angles and fresh perspectives,” O’Neill said. “What you will find is our tight focus will result in more and more long-term investigations aimed at those buyers and promoters.”

O’Neill said “the results will be stronger cases, more arrests and certainly more meaningful sentences of those convicted of these horrific acts,”

Since the NYPD reconfigured its vice unit in October, investigations into prostitution operations have increased from 1,525 to over 1,700, the commissioner said. Patrol officers will get more training on identifying trafficking victims, he added.

Human trafficking has been prosecuted in the United States since the early 20th century but gained more currency as a law enforcement problem in 2000 with the passage of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act that heavily penalized the crime. Since then, New York and a number of other states have passed their own human trafficking laws.

Human trafficking is defined as the use of force or other types of coercion to compel people to work as prostitutes or underpaid and ill-treated domestic and agricultural workers. The NYPD’s initial emphasis will be geared toward sex workers although it will likely be used for other classes of victims, said O’Neill.

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced the extradition from Mexico of a suspected trafficker who was part of a ring that tricked women from the city of Tenancingo into marriage. Once the women traveled to New York City they often found themselves forced by their spouses to work as prostitutes, court papers stated.

To encourage trafficking victims and the public to report traffickers, the city is setting up a special hotline: 646-610-7272. O’Neill said individual immigrant prostitutes caught up in trafficking rings will be eligible — as they have been under federal law since 2000 — for special T-Visas to allow them to stay legally in the U.S.

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