Homeland Security Kicks Off Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking, Other Risks at the Super Bowl
Department personnel are also working to prevent sales of counterfeit goods and head off any potential security threats.
As the nation prepares to watch one of the biggest sports games of the year, the Homeland Security Department and its sub-agencies are devoting personnel and resources to combatting human trafficking, counterfeit goods sales and other security risks that can arise at large events.
On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will play in the 54th Super Bowl at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, where an estimated 150,000 visitors will come for the football game and other activities. While human trafficking and other risks are not new to the Super Bowl, human trafficking is pervasive in Florida, especially in Miami-Dade County where the stadium is located, the Miami Herald reported. Additionally, the Homeland Security Department has experienced a 400% increase in counterfeit goods seizures nationwide since last Super Bowl.
As the department’s security planning was underway, officials thanked employees for their hard work every year.
“The Department of Homeland Security and nearly every one of the component agencies are in Miami working with our federal, state, and local partners to ensure a safe and secure Super Bowl week,” acting Secretary Chad Wolf said. “While there are no specific, credible threats against the Super Bowl, an event of this size and profile creates a potential target for violent actors, cyber-crimes, counterfeit marketers and even human trafficking. The American people can be sure that DHS and our partners are prepared on all fronts.”
To combat human trafficking, DHS deployed personnel from the Homeland Security Investigations unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Miami to work alongside state and local law enforcement. The Miami Herald reported that 33 people were arrested in relation to sex trafficking in the lead up to last year’s game in Atlanta and that this year’s location might pose a heighted threat.
“The Super Bowl in a beautiful, partying place like Miami is a bonanza for traffickers,” Theresa Flores, a trafficking survivor, told the Miami Herald. “You lock four girls in a room, barely feed them, threaten them, beat them, force them to have sex with men who are charged inflated rates, knowing you are at very low risk of getting caught. You can sell a human being over and over again. Your Super Bowl experience could easily net $50,000 in profit.”
This year DHS will be using its “first-of-its-kind” human trafficking strategy, released on Jan. 15. The plan, which recognizes trafficking as a top issue, is centered on informing the public, assisting victims in recovering, investigating and bringing cases for prosecution, partnering with outside organizations, and harmonizing internal operations. The department did not immediately respond to Government Executive’s question on how many employees were sent to Miami.
Additionally, Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations team is working with Customs and Border Protection to identify and investigate potential counterfeit sales. In the lead up to last year’s Super Bowl, federal and state authorities seized over 2,000 counterfeit sports items valued at about $100,000, MarketWatch reported. On Thursday, the department announced it seized over 176,000 counterfeit sports-related goods worth about $123 million nationwide since last year’s Super Bowl. This was a 400% increase from the $24.2 million’s worth seized the previous year.
“Purchasing counterfeit goods can not only ruin the Super Bowl fan experience, but it can also jeopardize the health and safety of consumers, burden the U.S. economy, and ultimately fund criminal organizations,” said the department.
Wolf visited the Joint Operations center in Miami on Wednesday to discuss security plans with Homeland Security personnel, local and state law enforcement, and National Football League security officials. Brian Swain, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Miami Field Office, is leading the operation.
Other departmentwide initiatives to provide security at the game include: the U.S. Coast Guard ensuring waterway safety, the Federal Emergency Management Agency preparing for potential disasters, and the Transportation Security Administration augmenting airport security and mitigating traffic. The department thanked its partners for all their efforts and said it has already begun security planning for next year’s Super Bowl in Tampa.