State attorney creates special unit to fight human trafficking


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State Attorney Melissa Nelson announced Tuesday her office has created a new division dedicated to pursuing and prosecuting offenders of trafficking other people.

Nelson joined Jacksonville's sheriff and other local and state agency leaders Tuesday to recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month and commit to working together on new efforts to tackle human trafficking.

Florida has the third highest rate of human trafficking in the United States, and the cases have gone up by more than 50 percent since 2015.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said the Sheriff's Office will work with the new team of prosecutors to enforce a Florida statute passed last year that require strip clubs, massage parlors, hotels and other businesses prone to trafficking activity to post public awareness signs with a toll-free hotline number.

Williams said they have also trained local business owners and officers to recognize the signs of human trafficking.

"At hotels, really look at the coming and going," said Marina Anderson, human trafficking coordinator for the Florida Department of Children and Families. "(Are) there multiple people coming out of a room? Are there different faces? Young, traveling with an adult male? If you see something that's not sitting right with you, contact local law enforcement."

Through a collaborative effort, the agencies said they'll be able to better combat the issue leading to successful prosecutions and reuniting families.

The Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition will hold a gathering with supporting agencies at 5 p.m. Thursday at Florida State College at Jacksonville.