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The National Prevention Toolkit

on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking

Proactive and Reactive Investigations

Proactive versus Reactive Investigations

By conducting proactive investigations, law enforcement officers can collaborate with other community partners to efficiently identify and stop human trafficking cases. Below are the differences between proactive and reactive cases.

Steps in Proactive Investigation

Below are the three phases of proactive investigations recommended by the Office for Victims of Crime. It is important to note that investigations may not follow these steps exactly.

1. Preoperational Phase:

  • Identification of the case.
  • Steps involved:
    • Identifying threats in the community,
    • Choosing targets to investigate,
    • Beginning case planning,
    • Choosing community partners to work with,
    • Establishing specific goals for the investigation,
    • Talking about how to recover victims and keep them safe, and
    • Following any available money trails.

2. Operational Phase:

  • Further involvement of those working on the case.
  • Steps involved:
    • Getting evidence (may use undercover agents or informants),
    • Getting audio and video recordings of those involved,
    • Trying to discern the relationship between victims and traffickers,
    • Planning a multi-stage takedown, and
    • Coordinating with victim service providers to assess victims’ needs.

3. Post-operational Phase:

  • What occurs after the case has become public.
  • Steps involved:
    • Conducting victim-centered interviews,
    • Providing access to immigration relief services,
    • Conducting an international investigation if necessary,
    • Continuing to build a post-arrest case,
    • Debriefing informants and victims, and
    • Occurrence of depositions, trial, and sentencing.

Additional Investigation Techniques

Below are some additional considerations and techniques for officers to use to conduct a successful investigation that satisfies the needs of the victims involved.

Ask Detailed Questions

  • It can be difficult to determine whether or not an individual is involved in human trafficking.
    • Thus, officers should be both thorough and creative when questioning potential victims.
  • Officers should use nonjudgmental language when questioning potential victims to help them feel safe enough to open up during the investigation.
    • For example, rather than asking someone whether or not they are a legal immigrant, officers can ask the following:
      • How did you arrive in the U.S.?
      • Do you have access to your documents?
      • Are you able to move around? Or do you have to stay in one location?
  • It is often necessary to interview victims multiple times to allow them to feel safe enough to open up to the investigator.

Consider the Entire Situation

  • Simply interviewing possible victims is not enough. Law enforcement officers should also consider:
    • The physical scene of the crime.
    • Other potential victims.
    • Witness accounts.
    • Other factors.

Human Trafficking Task Force Guide

Below is a brief description on the purpose of starting a Human Trafficking Task Force in your community. By collaborating with other entities in the community on a task force, comprehensive services can be provided to victims.

Purpose: The purpose of a human trafficking task force is to identify human trafficking, and to investigate and build human trafficking cases. It also exists to serve victims in collaboration with local and federal law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service providers.

  • Officers need to be aware of resources available to victims, such as the Polaris Project and U and V visas.

In a broad context, task force efforts should pursue:

  • Identification of victims of human trafficking and services and treatment necessary for victims.
  • Investigations and prosecutions of traffickers at both the local and federal levels.
  • Training law enforcement and victim service personnel.
  • Raising awareness of human trafficking and the response efforts within the community.

Creating a Task Force: Creating a task force allows agencies involved in anti-trafficking efforts, or those interested in becoming involved, to build relationships and learn the roles and capacities of other agencies. A task force is necessary because no single organization has the capacity or ability to handle all the aspects of responding to human trafficking. After creating a task force, members can begin to discuss how to best respond to human trafficking in a coordinated manner.

Task Force Members: A task force will benefit from including representatives from a variety of agencies and organizations to expand its services to victims and to investigate and successfully prosecute cases thoroughly.

The task force should include representatives from:

  • Federal, state, and local government agencies.
  • Law enforcement.
  • The district prosecutor’s office.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  • Social service agencies.
  • Community-based organizations.
  • Nongovernmental organizations.
  • Victim service providers.
  • Regulatory agencies.
  • Medical care providers (including mental health care).
  • Legal advocates.
  • Local community leaders.

Sources for Proactive and Reactive Investigations*

Sponsored by the

The Human Trafficking Project was supported by Award No. VF011 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, Sponsored by the Institute for Family Violence Studies and the State of Florida.


If you have questions or comments, please click the button below to contact the Institute for Family Violence Studies.

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