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Executive Kittleman and Council Chair Weinstein file legislation to assist police with human trafficking investigations of massage parlors

Executive Kittleman and Council Chair Weinstein file legislation to assist police with human trafficking investigations of massage parlors

February 23, 2017

Media Contacts:
Deidre McCabe, Director of Communications, Office of Public Information, 410-313-2022
Sherry Llewellyn, Public Information Officer, Howard County Police Department, 410-313-2236

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman and Council Chairperson Jon Weinstein today filed local legislation to assist the Howard County Police Department with investigating massage parlors suspected of being fronts for prostitution and human trafficking.

This legislation is the second step in the process started last year when Kittleman asked Howard County’s General Assembly Delegation to introduce enabling legislation to allow Howard County to pursue this bill.

“Delegate Bob Flanagan helped us greatly by sponsoring state legislation, which passed last year and went into effect October 1,” said Kittleman. “With state enabling legislation in place, we can file the local legislation that will allow our police officers to crack down on illegal establishments.”

The legislation, if passed, will better enable police to access massage establishments and assist victims who may be in need of help. Currently, police do not have the authority to check on an illegitimate establishment without a state licensing inspector, even if there are numerous complaints or obvious ads for sexual activity posted online. The legislation, if passed, would allow checks by police of suspicious massage establishments under specific circumstances. The legislation would have no adverse effect on legitimate spas and massage establishments using licensed massage practitioners.

“My serious interest in this issue started with my participation in Leadership Howard. I learned the severity of human trafficking in our community from conversations with police personnel and Jennifer Pollitt-Hill, HopeWorks’ Executive Director,” said Weinstein. “The Human Trafficking Task Force’s report was one of the first items I reviewed as a Council member and this bill helps make progress on their recommendations.”

The Howard County Police Department worked with the state’s Board of Licensed Massage Therapists to gain support for the bill before it was filed.

“This bill will not impact legitimate, legal businesses, but it will help us root out those that are conducting illegal activities,” said Police Chief Gary Gardner. “Victims of human trafficking are often forced to work in illegal sex trade and we will not tolerate that in Howard County. This legislation will allow us to check on illegitimate businesses that are fronts for illegal activity, and work with the Board to investigate and shut down any place that is preying upon individuals for human trafficking.”

“We’re confronting this aggressively. We’re committed to giving police officers the tools they need to crack down on it. We will not allow anyone to be exploited,” Kittleman said.

In addition to the massage parlor legislation, other actions taken by Kittleman include:

  • Creating a specially designated fund with assets seized through the arrest of criminals involved with these crimes which would be used to assist victims and law enforcement efforts.
  • Adding a second full-time undercover police officer to work exclusively on human trafficking investigations. In 2016, 25 human trafficking investigations were conducted, resulting in 10 arrests and 25 victims being assisted.
  • Establishing in the coming weeks a Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinating Council to review and prioritize recommendations of the 2014 Human Trafficking Task Force Report and advise the County Executive on the effective methods and organizational structure to permanently coordinate and sustain human trafficking prevention efforts in the County.