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*Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of the California Police Chief magazine.
By Jinnie Chua, Assistant Editor of In Public Safety
One of the greatest challenges in human trafficking cases is making connections between indicators or behaviors that lead to perpetrators and victims. In their ongoing investigations, different law enforcement agencies may have pieces of information, such as phone numbers or locations, that lead to the same trafficker and not even know it. This is why it’s so important to have the ability to share information nationwide among local, state and federal criminal justice partners.
Recognizing the need for information sharing at all levels of law enforcement, the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) program was established in 1974. RISS is composed of six regional centers that focus on supporting criminal investigations, including those involving human trafficking. The Western States Information Network® (WSIN) is the center that provides services to agencies in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii, as well as Canada, Guam, and New Zealand.
WSIN, along with the other five RISS centers, offers electronic database access through a secure, nationwide communication network called RISSNET. Through the RISSNET portal, agencies have access to RISSIntel, a criminal intelligence database that allows law enforcement personnel to deconflict their investigative subjects, and RISSafe, an officer safety system that allows agencies to deconflict their operations to avoid a “blue-on-blue” incident. The WSIN website, the national RISS Officer Safety Website, and many other valuable resources are also available via RISSNET.
“We can’t compel agencies to discuss their cases with one another, but we can ensure they’re aware of collateral investigations in the area,” said Bob Blanchard, one of WSIN’s law enforcement coordinators in Southern California. “The hope is that they do collaborate and communicate to solve ongoing cases.”
Supporting Human Trafficking Investigations
In addition to information sharing, users of WSIN can utilize surveillance equipment, receive training and publications, and use analytical staff to help identify, locate and prosecute human traffickers. WSIN’s analytical services are particularly useful to smaller agencies that don’t have enough resources or officers to devote to time-consuming human trafficking investigations.
“The smaller agencies often become repeat customers and we, in effect, become their analytical unit,” said Tracy Williams, WSIN’s analytical services manager. “WSIN, and RISS centers in general, don’t have an enforcement arm, so agencies know that we’re not going to take over their case.”
Alicia O’Brien, WSIN’s human trafficking analyst, explained that depending on what investigators are looking for, WSIN analysts can work with them to provide customized case support. Analysts perform specific types of analysis, which are used to create analytical products, including:
- Association analysis – Results in an organizational or link chart that identifies victims and key players within a human trafficking organization.
- Communication analysis – Indicates the communication between a pimp, victims and buyers by mapping out relevant cell towers, locations, emails, etc.
- Financial analysis – Represents how money is transferred within a human trafficking organization, including where it goes and where it comes from.
- Flow analysis – Provides a timeline of events, including what happened, when it happened, and who was involved.
In addition to the analytical products above, WSIN can also produce multimedia presentations that prosecutors can use in court. “They can really assist in helping a jury understand what has happened to victims and how a human trafficking organization started,” said O’Brien.
How Agencies Can Join WSIN
Although membership is free, law enforcement agencies must apply to join WSIN in order to utilize its services. It’s important that agencies express a clear interest in the concept of information sharing in their application, which needs to be reviewed and approved. Once an agency has been granted membership, they are allowed to submit information into the RISSIntel database and can dictate exactly how their data is disseminated to other law enforcement users.
“WSIN is honored to be trusted with agencies’ information, and that trust leads to a high participation rate within our region,” said Williams. Participation is especially important for human trafficking cases. WSIN recognizes that traffickers regularly engage in other criminal activity, such as assault, robbery, drug trafficking, and homicide. As more agencies submit information to RISSIntel, it increases the likelihood that agencies will discover cross-case connections, expand their investigations and secure prosecutions.
“If officers aren’t contributing and using the system, it’s no good,” said Blanchard. “The operation is only as good as the information put in and shared.”
About the Author: Jinnie Chua is assistant editor at In Public Safety, an American Military University sponsored website. She graduated from New York University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Sociology. At In Public Safety, Jinnie covers issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, fire services, emergency management and national security. She can be reached at IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.
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