Madison Heights City Council adopts resolution on human trafficking

City councilman calls for more officers to crack down on serious crimes

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 2, 2018

MADISON HEIGHTS — Following efforts by the state and county to raise awareness for human trafficking, the Madison Heights City Council passed a resolution at its meeting Feb. 26 showing commitment to the cause.

Mayor Brian Hartwell said the city is also joined by the FBI, Attorney General Bill Schuette, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray.

“I have not been able to sleep knowing that the modern-day slave trade is passing through Oakland County and Madison Heights,” Hartwell said.

In addition, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss proposed a town hall for teaching the public how to identify and help victims of human trafficking, and to discuss other plans of action.

However, City Councilman David Soltis said it may not be enough. Soltis has been pushing the issue of human trafficking for more than a year. He said after the meeting that the most effective way to make a difference is to hire more police.

“I think more officers are needed to sharply reduce the exorbitant overtime costs that the current staff are working. And then there’s the matter of officer fatigue and burnout. We also need another dispatcher — that’s imperative,” Soltis said. “The quickest way to see residents leave our city is for someone to become a victim of a violent crime, or call 911 and no one answers.”

Madison Heights Police Chief Corey Haines confirmed in an email that his department is understaffed. There are currently 47 sworn personnel at the MHPD, down from 58 a decade ago. But their call volume remains the same.

“The reduction of sworn personnel has added to the necessity for overtime,” Haines said. “Generally, on each shift we are at minimum staffing levels. When someone is sick or takes vacation or other leave, it requires the department to fill the open spots to maintain minimum staffing levels.”

He said budget constraints during the recession led to retired officers not being replaced. Others left for other departments. There are also fewer qualified individuals applying for police work.

“An addition of two to three officers to our department would be beneficial in helping us address the daily call volume, and allow us to spend more time addressing issues with human trafficking and other serious crimes,” Haines said.

The mayor said that Oakland County labels the cities of Madison Heights and Southfield as “hot spots” for human trafficking in the area. The issue remains a pressing matter, both in Michigan and the rest of the country.     

Victims of human trafficking include both children and adults, who are exported through force, fraud or coercion for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor and more. According to a report from the anti-trafficking group Hope International, as many as 100,000 to 300,000 American children, as young as 11 years old, are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the U.S. each year — part of a $9.8 billion industry.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that human trafficking is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world today. Michigan has the sixth-largest call volume to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.

Soltis said the sex trade primarily takes place in local hotels. He and the rest of council approved the assignment of an officer to a joint FBI Oakland County task force, which successfully uncovered a major human trafficking operation last year in Madison Heights. The council also assigned an officer to the Troy Special Investigations Unit, investigating nonviolent organized crime that crosses city borders.

“We’re making significant progress in terms of busting up human trafficking, prostitution and drugs in our city and others, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done,” Soltis said.

The mayor said City Council is determined to tackle the issue head-on.

“We must focus our thoughts, resources and connections on stopping human trafficking,” Hartwell said. “An issue as frightening and disgusting as human trafficking unites us in our determination to protect the city from harm.”