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Kansas City Police ask the trucking industry for help spotting human trafficking

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Blue semi truck parked in parking lot followed by five other semi trucks parked to the passenger side of the vehicle.
The Kansas City Police Department is disseminating educational information at local truck stops to raise awareness for human trafficking.
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The trucking industry is short about 30,000 drivers nationwide, says the American Trucking Associations. Women are joining the ranks to help fill the void.

The Kansas City Police Department and Missouri Department of Transportation are encouraging truck drivers to take an active role in reporting human trafficking. The departments are part of a week-long collaborative effort to educate and raise awareness about trafficking.

January 11 is recognized as National Human Tracking Awareness Day. In 2021, more than 50,000 signals — including texts, calls and online messages — were received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline regarding labor or sexual exploitation by way of force, fraud or coercion.

"It's a huge problem," says Heather Luebbert, commercial motor vehicle program manager with the Missouri Department of Transportation. "By looking at just the statistical data, the National Human Trafficking Hotline places the state of Missouri ninth in the nation in terms of the number of reports that were submitted in the year 2021."

The Kansas City Police Department, Missouri Department of Transportation and Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance are working with the trucking industry in a week-long campaign to raise awareness about this issue.

Because perpetrators of human trafficking commonly transport their victims on roadways, truckers are an asset to law enforcement agencies in reporting suspicious activity.

"It's really a force multiplier when you think about it, and quite honestly a lot of... the traffickers are traveling on our interstate and major state highways from different cities around the country," says Jake Elovirta, director of enforcement programs with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). "So it certainly was a perfect opportunity to have those folks that are constantly out there being educated to the issue."

This is the second year CVSA has participated in the campaign. Elovirta says the educational efforts have made an impact, citing cases of vehicle inspectors having "the wherewithal to start asking some questions," resulting in the recovery of runaways potentially being groomed.

Sgt. Grant Ruark with the Kansas City Police Department joined Elovirta and Luebbert on KCUR's Up To Date to discuss how the organizations are collaborating with the trucking industry to recognize signs of trafficking.

If you suspect or are a victim of human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. Message and data rates may apply.

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As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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