Once upon a time I was a "Law Enforcement" Officer. Sorta. I was a Wildife/Fisheries Tech 3 (aka, Associate Wildlife Biologist). Back in the day (right out of college) even the "Technical Staff" as we were called completed the MS Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy ie, The Police Academy. So in January of 1989 I attended several weeks of Basic Training in Pearl, MS. For what it's worth, I graduated at the top of the class.
During my years with the "State" the overwhelming majority of my work involved Fisheries Research and Mgmt. There were a few exceptions though. Once I was recruited to "spy" on a fellow Officer for a couple days. He was a Lake Manager and was allegedly allowing the State Prisoners he was using to have conjugal visits with their girlfriends at the Lake. Another time some people were selling "gamefish" at a restaurant which was/is illegal. I'm the one that made the "delivery" of fish to the bad guys.
This past week I resurrected my "undercover" persona; which really means I just turned into a paranoid, Liam Neeson from the movie, Taken, wannabe.
But first a little more background: I've had a lot of exposure to Human Trafficking over the last few years. When I did The World Race we walked the streets of Cambodia and Thailand. Since then several World Racers have gone on to work with anti-trafficking ministries such as International Justice Mission and Shared Hope International and others. I've heard statistics that suggest that as many as 70% of the girl orphans in Ukraine are trafficked after they age-out. A huge number of girls and women in Moldova have been trafficked in the last 10 years. And then I read stories like this. (Ukrainian girls arrive in America for summer work and are immediately trafficked).
So it's no wonder that my hackles got up when I learned that two young friends from Ukraine were coming to America on a Student Work/Travel Visa. They are both 20 year olds that I met while I lived in Ukraine in 2009. One of them was my translator at camp. So what did I do? I timed a "Support Raising" Road Trip to coincide with their arrival at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC this past week.
To begin with, I researched the company (a Pool Mgmt company that provides Lifeguards for apartments and hotels). Turns out they have been sued before for Fair Labor Standards violations. I talked to the National Trafficking Hotline people to see if they had any complaints. This past Monday night I was there when the girls arrived. My plan was to see who picked them up. I wanted to get pictures of the "guy" and I wanted get pictures of whatever vehicle they left in. I even wanted to get fingerprints by handing the guy my water bottle or something.
So, I waited. I spotted the "guy" first- he was waiting with a sign with my friends name on it. I managed to get near enough to him to overhear his phone conversations and I could tell he was a native Russian speaker. When the girls arrived, I took pictures and got video. He seemed a little surprised and shy when I insisted on taking his picture. So I gave him a paraphrase of that line from "Taken" (I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.)
Seriously, I told him I was taking his picture so that if anything happened to the girls this summer I would know who to look for!
I walked to the car with them and got a picture of the Vehicle Tag. The next day I staked-out their "Office" and took more vehicle pictures. I managed to get two more Tag pictures.
I also gave one of the girls a Prepaid Phone with several key telephone numbers. I was able to stay in touch with them for the couple days I was in DC. It looks like the company is fairly legit. A little sketchy...for example, the apartment the girls are in isn't furnished at all; only has mattresses on the floor- not even any bedding. I took the girls shopping and got them sleeping bags and pillows and some other essentials. I hope some friends in the DC Area will keep tabs on them through the summer.
So there ya go. Just like in my old "Wildlife Dept" days, I was reminded that I really don't have the personality type to be an effective undercover guy. My heart was racing when I was taking pictures and videos and stuff. That's ok though. I think I accomplished my mission. Nothing I did necessarily guarantees the girls' safety this summer, but if they had disappeared the other night I know I would have regretted being there for the rest of my life. And if your daughter was 5000 miles away from home for the summer, wouldn't you want someone looking out for her?