By Anthony M. DeStefano, New York Newsday
An innovative two-month-old New York City unit probing human trafficking will not be shut down as rumored, police officials said.
Both federal and New York law enforcement sources last week had said that police brass within the Organized Crime Control Bureau, which supervises the trafficking unit, didn't think the unit was worthwhile and should be closed down.
The bad review came, the sources said, just as police were taking part last Monday in a closely guarded operation in Corona along with Brooklyn federal prosecutors. Ten illegal Mexican immigrants were taken into immigration custody as part of a human trafficking probe.
But when asked by Newsday if the unit was to be closed, a police spokesman said that was not the case.
"The human-trafficking investigation unit is not being disbanded," Sgt. Kevin Hayes said Friday.
The unit was set up in November after evidence had mounted over the years in news reports and intelligence data that New York City was a major destination city for women being trafficked in the sex industries. The city's large immigrant communities are seen by authorities as hubs for the importation of women to work in brothels, sometimes under duress.
New York's specialized unit has received wide praise among federal officials and human rights activists as a harbinger of what could be done around the country and abroad, particularly the Corona operation.
"That is a great concept, it's a great idea" said John Miller, head of the federal Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, an arm of the State Department. He hoped other police departments would emulate New York City's operation.
Federal officials are also planning to use the New York unit as a component for a soon-to-be unveiled international anti-trafficking initiative, said one investigator, who asked not to be named.
If New York had decided to pull the plug on the trafficking unit, the timing would have been politically awkward. In September, President George W. Bush talked about trafficking before the United Nations, and the United States has been pouring millions of dollars into domestic initiatives. Washington has also been assisting foreign governments, particularly in Eastern Europe and former Soviet states to set up anti-trafficking operations.
"They have been working their tails off since starting that unit," said Florrie Burke of Safe Horizon, a victim assistance, advocacy, and violence prevention group based in New York City that is working with the police trafficking operation. "I would hope they give it a chance. It has not been in operation very long."