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Bright House techs taught to spot human trafficking signs

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MOON LAKE — Dozens of Pasco Bright House Networks employees learned Wednesday morning how to spot suspicious things within the communities where they work.

Continuing a partnership started in 2005, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office offered a training seminar for Bright House technicians to teach them basic crime prevention tips, and how to stay at a safe distance but still call in suspicious activity.

The training included how to recognize residential burglaries, identify possible marijuana grow houses and spot other crime committed in many residential areas, but the focus of the seminar was human trafficking, a global, multibillion-dollar crime defined by the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking as “the exploitation by force, fraud or coercion of vulnerable people — often immigrants — for forced labor, domestic servitude or commercial sex operations.”

The training session took place Wednesday morning at the Bright House offices on Moon Lake Road. The training will be repeated in Wesley Chapel on Thursday.

“We want to bring in the business community and local citizens so that there are eyes and ears in the communities they work in every day,” said Cpl. Alan Wilkett of the sheriff’s office, who led the training.

Previous training sessions have been done with other utility companies, hotels, malls and retail centers. Wilkett said the sheriff’s office will offer training to any businesses or organizations in the community that invite them.

Wednesday’s session at Bright House focused on human trafficking. Signs to look for, Wilkett said, included individuals refusing to give personal documents or having other people hold them for them, someone refusing to answer basic questions or having someone to step in and answer for them, and signs that point to mobile brothels or brothels being set up in homes.

Joe Durkin, the senior director for corporate communications with Bright House, lauded the program for its ability to teach Bright House employees how to be a good corporate neighbor by partnering with law enforcement if they see something suspicious.

The session was part of a series of refresher courses offered by various law enforcement agencies throughout the six states that Bright House Networks, a subsidiary of Advance/Newhouse Communications, operates in.

Florida is the perfect setting for human trafficking because of its large airports, military bases, coastlines, sporting events, large conventions, other transit ports and tourism, the corporal pointed out.

Wilkett has given presentations on human trafficking at various events throughout this year, including at a Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking event held in March at Trinity College of Florida. The event was an effort to educate the community on how prevalent human trafficking is in the Bay area. Florida is third in the United States, behind California and Texas, in the human trafficking business, according to the Clearwater Area Task Force on Human Trafficking. The Tampa Bay area is the second worst area for trafficking in Florida.

“One of the things that really just boils my blood is human trafficking,” Wilkett said in March “It’s more than just a job bullet point for me. It’s a form of human slavery and a violation of a person’s dignity and the fact that they are a child of God.”

The sheriff’s office and Bright House Networks first joined efforts in 2005, using the cable company’s Operation Bright Eyes program and a Fleet Watch program sponsored by the sheriff’s office.

The program was credited with breaking a crime spree of stolen cable boxes in the Tampa Bay area that were sold illegally in South America, according to a sheriff’s office press release from July 2008.

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