Q&A with Robert McCullers
City of residence: Macon
Occupation: Assistant U.S. attorney, Middle District of Georgia
Q: You brought a unique gathering to Byron on Aug. 5. What was it?
A: It was the U.S. Attorney office’s human trafficking task force meeting and training.
Q: What was the general purpose?
A: We brought law enforcement agencies and non-government groups involved in fighting human trafficking together to provide training, get feedback and to foster collaboration.
Q: Why in Byron?
A: It’s such a central location it keeps anyone from having to travel too far. That and the fact Mayor (Larry) Collins and Police Chief (Wesley) Cannon are so receptive and community-minded toward meetings like this. The Byron Municipal Complex is great and they made it available to us for hosting the meeting, just as they’ve done for previous law enforcement meetings.
Q: Why did the U.S. Attorney’s office spearhead the event?
A: Several reasons. One, our office is able to provide information, support and resources across jurisdictions. Another is that it’s part of the ongoing effort of the Attorney General and Department of Justice to educate law enforcement and the public about trafficking. Trafficking goes beyond state and even national boundaries but is still a local issue. It’s been a priority of the current and past U.S. Attorney Generals and of Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney serving the Middle District, who, by the way, served as assistant district attorney in Houston County as well as having had a private law practice in Warner Robins.
Q: And your involvement?
A: I’m in the criminal division and one of my duties is human trafficking task force coordinator. That includes labor and sex trafficking for both adults and minors. It dovetails with my being the Project Safe Childhood coordinator, which covers all forms of exploitation of children, including sexual exploitation, child pornography, enticement of children for sexual purposes, trafficking and prostitution.
Q: You said it’s a local issue. How so?
A: Human trafficking is a growing problem throughout the U.S., and even though people think it only happens somewhere else, only in big cities, it’s real and a growing issue in the 70 counties of the Middle District, which is largely rural with some larger cities. We have to spread the word how serious it is and work toward ways to combat it and serve its victims.
Q: How many attended?
A: There were 128 attendees from 38 different agencies. There were 119 from a variety of law enforcement agencies and nine representatives from four different service providers and organizations like Georgia Cares, the Anti-Slavery Project, MG-Alert and Out of Darkness.
Q: Who did the training?
A: Trainers were from the FBI, GBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations and Georgia Cares.
Q: What area range did participants come from?
A: All over. From Columbus and Albany, from Macon, Valdosta, DeKalb County, Houston County and of course, Byron.
Q: What was the difference between the task force and the training sides of the meeting?
A: On the task force side, we’re gathering people interested in fighting the fight and helping provide a framework for networking, sharing information, communication and forging collaborations as well as highlighting needs and resources. The training side is more an effort to help educate and equip regarding awareness, investigative techniques and issues involved in combating human trafficking and helping victims. The meeting provided law enforcement officers six hours of free, POST certified continuing education training they have to get each year right here in their own back yard.
Q: What role do the non-government, non-law enforcement groups play?
A: There are needed services for victims that are outside the scope of law enforcement, such as long-term aftercare and rehabilitation. And citizens and non-law enforcement groups are certainly the eyes and ears of law enforcement. The more people who are aware and know the signs of both adult and child trafficking, the better.
Q: Again, is all this necessary? Is it local?
A: There were many cases brought up at the meeting that show it’s local. And modern technology and websites like backpage.com literally bring the dangers of trafficking right to every neighborhood. I’m not sure any of us can grasp how large it is and can become. It’s been said that internationally it’s the second or third largest criminal enterprise -- tied with illegal arms and behind drugs -- but now experts say they expect it to surpass those and become number one. Victims have to come from somewhere, and sadly customers do, too. Just the Interstate 75 and our proximity to Atlanta makes it a local problem.
Q: What do you hope the takeaway was for officers and others?
A: I guess the very fact modern-day slavery isn’t restricted to large cities or certain places; greater knowledge to successfully investigate trafficking situations leading to successful prosecutions; awareness of what the signs are and motivation to share that information with citizens; and encouraging plain communication to help everyone know who’s doing what, where different expertise and resources are, and who they can reach out to, including our office.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.