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Novi Council Debate over Human Trafficking Training Ends with 4-3 Vote

Novi Council Debate over Human Trafficking Training Ends with 4-3 Vote

(Lara Mossa, March 8, 2020)

NOVI – The City Council had a heated discussion last week about human trafficking. Council member Kelly Breen asked the board to pass a resolution that would require the city to provide training to prevent human trafficking in the area.

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the country, Breen said in her opening remarks.

“You’re not just talking about sex trafficking,” she said. “A large component of this is labor trafficking.”

The biggest culprits of labor trafficking are ethnic restaurants, hair and nail salons and massage parlors, she added.

“Michigan has the second highest human trafficking rate in the country. Oakland County is not immune.”

Breen also said the Council discussed this least year and city employees such as fire and building inspectors, public safety employees, parks and recreation and even waste management personnel can spot signs of trafficking.

“While we want to believe that human trafficking does not at all exist in Novi…and it may not at this moment. There may not be any active cases. We need to be proactive and ensure this horrific practice does not enter our city boundaries and that we do everything we can to make sure we identify victims and give them the help they need,” she said.

But other City Council members did not feel the board should micromanage and force the city to provide training.

“A lot of this up here is politics,” Mayor Bob Gatt said. “We should keep politics away from this council table.”

Mayor Pro Tem David Staudt said the resolution is not about human trafficking but about City Council “imposing its will on public safety officials.”

While he agreed the city should make every effort possible to prevent human trafficking, he is confident that the police chief and public safety department are capable of taking this on, he said.

“We need to stop pushing our city administration to do things that we want as a council,” he added. “I won’t put up with it. I won’t vote for it. It’s wrong.”

Other city officials were concerned that having the resolution would give the public the wrong idea as to whether there is human trafficking in Novi or not.

“I’m a little concerned how we label different items and might give the general public a reason to be overly scared and nervous or not know what is going on just by maybe some language that is too colorful,” said City Manager Pete Auger. “People aren’t every day being pulled off the street, or there isn’t a crime wave or epidemic going on in the city of Novi with human trafficking…I just get real nervous that the city will be painted into a light that there is some epidemic of things happening when the numbers just don’t add up.”

There are no ongoing investigations in human trafficking or any in the past in Novi, said David Malloy, Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police. In addition, he said the public safety officials have already received training.

“This is not something new,” he said. “It’s something we’re constantly looking at.”

Still, Breen and City Council member Andrew Mutch asked the Council to take action.

“We don’t know,” Mutch said. “We don’t know what’s going on in hotels or some of the businesses that provide those services such as massage parlors…We have to be careful we paint a picture that there’s not a problem.”

He added that City Council provides direction on a wide variety of issues, and the resolution would not require a certain kind of training or how to do it.

Council member Laura Marie Casey suggested the city ask the FBI hold a community forum to provide education.

Breen made a motion to have the city staff provide a plan to the council on educating employees on human trafficking as well as community involvement to help residents know the signs and how to respond to them. The resolution failed 4-3 with Mayor Bob Gatt, Mayor Pro Tem David Staudt, Hugh Crawford and Justin Fischer voting no.

“We live in a very safe community – not to say tomorrow something bad can’t happen, because it could happen anywhere, anytime,” Gatt said. “But our police department is the best trained, best equipped.”

Related stories:

County and Local Officials Learn About Human Trafficking Prevention (Sept. 5, 2018)

Detective Shares Tips on Recognizing Human Trafficking (April 23, 2018)

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