From left, Sgt. J.A. Wall and Officer Daniel Von Quintus give tips to fight human trafficking. Photo by Michelle L. Bonton

Lake Houston is a thriving community full of beautiful spaces, lovely homes and everyday people of all ages and walks of life. The crime rate is low and the sense of community is strong. It is hard to imagine that the dark world of human trafficking would mar our idyllic setting, but it was the topic at the March Positive Interaction Program (PIP) meeting in Kingwood.
PIP is an outreach effort of the Houston Police Department (HPD) designed to promote improved interaction between law enforcement and area residents. The HPD Kingwood Division sponsors meetings every third Tuesday to bring awareness to various issues.
Sgt. J.A. Wall of the HPD Human Trafficking Unit led the March 20 discussion about this very serious crime that is plaguing the nation and Houston in particular. PIP attendees listened raptly as Wall shared the statistics related to human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is the third largest enterprise in the world, generates more than $60 billion each year, and victimizes hundreds of thousands. Texas has more than 300,000 victims. Houston has 75,000 victims and receives more calls to the national human trafficking hotline than any other city in the nation,” said Wall.
Residents attending agreed that being first in the nation in human trafficking is not a “first” to brag about. Many were also sad to learn that more than 70 percent of human trafficking victims are young girls between the ages of 14-17. No one at the meeting seemed surprised to hear that social media was a primary means of recruiting victims who are often drawn in with promises of a “family life,” greater independence and wealth.
The time seemed to fly by as the sergeant interwove the alarming statistics of the thousands of people who fall victim to human trafficking each year with action-packed tales of investigations that led to as many as 150 arrests in a single instance. Attendees were shocked to find out that human trafficking has even reared its head in their own backyard as they listened raptly to Wall tell the story of a former Kingwood neighbor who was also a United Airlines pilot and a human trafficking kingpin that supplemented his income by millions of dollars each year through his crimes.
HPD’s human trafficking unit was established in 2014. The division began with 10 undercover officers/investigators and now boasts 45 officers and support staff from various law enforcement and social service agencies. Member agencies include the FBI, Harris County Sheriff’s Department, and YMCA International, just to name a few. Officers and staff from support agencies work proactively to fight this crime that is actually modern day slavery.
“The groups work collaboratively to identify victims, use state and federal resources to prosecute offenders, and connect victims to service providers to assist and support victims,” Wall said.
Kingwood resident Denise Mears, also present at the meeting, is a board member of Free the Captives. It is a faith-based nonprofit that also works with HPD to support victims of human trafficking by providing emergency shelter, counseling, job training and job placement.
The audience remained engaged throughout the meeting, and when asked how they could help, the sergeant gave the following suggestions: practice “See Something, Say Something;” contact the Human Trafficking hotline at HPD’s Vice Division-713-308-8600; and consider volunteering with one of the many agencies that partners with HPD to combat human trafficking.
Mears announced that Free the Captives will host a human trafficking volunteer information session at Second Baptist Church-Kingwood April 5, at 10:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center, Room 204.
The meeting concluded with the introduction of Lt. Rose Terry, who took command of the HPD Kingwood Division March 23 after being promoted to captain. Terry is a 32-year HPD member. She has previously worked in the Crime Stoppers Division, Internal Affairs, Family Violence, and Public Information.
PIP meets every third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at Kingwood Church of Christ, 2901 Woodland Hills Dr. The meeting is open to the public and interested residents are encouraged to attend.