SHALIMAR, Fla. (WKRG) — The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) says raising awareness is one way the public can help stop human trafficking.
With unanimous support, Okaloosa County Commissioners signed a proclamation this week to do just that.
“A lot of people don’t know that we do have human trafficking and what it involves,” said board chairman Carolyn Ketchel.
OCSO says the stretch of Northwest Florida is known for rescuing victims during transport — found along main roads like Interstate-10. The average age of victims is between 12 and 14 years old.
“We arrested two gentlemen on human trafficking where they were transporting — one was actually a juvenile female and it was from Tallahassee to the Orlando area, and I believe Jacksonville, where they were transporting these females to.“
-DAVID ALLEN, OKALOOSA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE CHIEF INVESTIGATOR
Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking crimes with more than 1,800 victims statewide.
OCSO says having an area high in tourism also makes this county more of a target. “With human trafficking, tourism, and destinations, they follow,” Allen said.
The county is looking at steps to make the public more aware of the threat.
“We are talking about putting them, the signs, on the back of bathroom stalls for women,” Ketchel said. “So they can see it, identify it, and call the hotline for help.”
If you see anything suspicious, call Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers at 850-863-TIPS (8477) or OCSO 850-833-9200.
“They can always call. I think people feel, ‘Well we don’t want to bother them because we don’t know for sure,’” Allen said. “But call — that is what we are here for. You never know that tip that you give could lead to an arrest and could save someone’s life.”
Look on the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking for education tools and resources.