Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday new funding and efforts to crack down on human trafficking, which he described as one of the “most heinous” crimes.
Hogan (R) signed an executive order creating a statewide anti-human trafficking director and said the state was allocating $5 million to provide trafficking victims with support services and $4 million to help counties target gangs and criminal networks.
The governor, who spoke at a news conference in Rockville with Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said Maryland’s central location makes it a “hotbed for human trafficking” up and down the Interstate 95 corridor.
Three Germantown residents were charged in June in connection with running a trafficking and prostitution operation at four massage parlors in Montgomery County. In February, two Baltimore men were charged with trafficking three teenage girls — ages 15, 16 and 17 — in Laurel.
“As a father, I’m heartbroken for these daughters and sons who are being victimized and brutalized,” a visibly emotional Hogan said.
There were 115 human trafficking cases reported in Maryland last year to the National Human Trafficking Hotline — up from 84 in 2012. There were 156 cases reported to the hotline in Virginia in 2017, and 61 in the District.
The anti-human trafficking director will work out of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention, focusing in part on improving data collection and state coordination with counties.
“We know it’s bad, but we want to know how bad,” said Glenn Fueston, who heads the governor’s anti-crime office. “It’s about creating an environment where people feel safe coming to us.”
In January, Hogan signed an executive order requiring state agencies to prominently display information about the human trafficking hotline (1-888-373-7888) and text line (text HELP to 233733) on their websites.
Hogan, who is running for reelection, said he will reintroduce legislation in 2019 that died in the General Assembly this year and would classify felony human trafficking as a violent crime, which means offenders would spend more time in prison.
He also announced that a $500,000 grant will be awarded to the University of Maryland to help fund the creation of a center focused on innovation in the criminal justice field.
Leggett, who has pointedly not endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous, repeatedly praised Hogan’s leadership Thursday. He said people too often think that human trafficking would not be a problem in a state that is as affluent and highly educated as Maryland.
“This is a national problem, and Maryland is no exception, and Montgomery County is no exception,” Leggett said, noting that the county has focused on training employees at hotels and motels on how to spot human traffickers.
Montgomery County will receive $257,000 in grant funding; Prince George’s County will get $195,160.
D. Michael Lyles, who chairs the anti-human trafficking task force in Prince George’s, said he “applauds any effort by the state to help,” adding that the county does not have enough resources to provide a facility where victims can receive medium to long-term support.
“If they don’t have help, these victims are back on the street being victimized,” Lyles said.