A successful team at Technology Association of Oregon Hack for a Cause in April, 2017, has led to creation of a new app to help Eugene Police Special Investigations Unit and community members fight human trafficking.
The app, “Emerald Citizen,” is the product of an idea conceived by Pamela Kinion, a Lane County Against Trafficking Task Force member. Diana Janz (founder of Hope Ranch and LCAT, which is a citizen's task force) and Pamela Kinion (founder of High Hope Haven, a nonprofit that supports people who struggle with engaging) worked together on the task force delivering sex trafficking awareness training to community members. Carolyn Cummings was another individual who was involved with the task force at that time. They met with EPD Sergeant Scott Vinje to determine the best way for trained community members to report what they witness. When Sgt. Vinje related that sex traffickers work via phone and online messages, the group wondered if information could be automated, with the information kept in a central location for all to access. Cummings suggested a proposal to the hack-for-a-cause and they all worked on making the proposal happen.
The Technology Association of Oregon Hack for a Cause in 2017 had the focus of Making Eugene Safer for its event. The group submitted a proposal to make a text message with information that populates a searchable database that could be used by trained volunteers who spot signs of human trafficking. The database results would be monitored by EPD Investigations for leads and trends.
During the Hack a Thon, three teams worked for 36 hours and the winning team was Scott Lively, Evey Edward, and Garrett Seward.) They named their app “Emerald Citizen.” Edward and Seward later took job positions outside the Eugene area.
US Ignite provided a grant after Kinion submitted a proposal. Then, there was a funding match from an anonymous private foundation. At this phase, the app has been developed to a minimum viable product to showcase functionality. The purpose of the minimum viable product is to develop the application to the point where it is possible to determine the value of Emerald Citizen. Development on this phase will be complete around the end of February. The US Ignite contract will sunset at that time, but the effort will still have some matching funds to spend. The goal is to enlist trained community members to use the application to provide feedback on its usability and also so that EPD can determine the value of information that is collected through the app. This evaluation phase will more than likely continue through the middle of 2019. If it is feasible to continue development of Emerald Citizen, additional funding and/or software development partners will be sought during the next phase.
Eugene Police and the Lane County District Attorney’s office have taken a strong stance against Promoting and Compelling Prostitution. EPD’s human trafficking detectives have worked with LCDA office toward several successful prosecutions in 2018 and their interest continued.
There are prerequisites to becoming a community reporter using the Emerald Citizen application. While the goal is to increase the coverage of trained witnesses and provide valuable information to support police cases, those involved in the app and EPD will not compromise safety in order to accomplish that. Community reporters must complete a two-part training series:
- An awareness training that defines what to look for and
- Hands-on training in using the application
Additionally, Emerald Citizen will conduct background checks on prospective reporters.
The first training is targeted at community members who work in environments where they are likely to witness trafficking activity and people who have been instrumental in developing Emerald Citizen. It is by invitation only to allow for fine-tuning of the training before opening it up to additional users.
Human trafficking offenders often subject their victims forced servitude and violence, and the victims are prevented from coming forward due to fear and intimidation. Some signs of human trafficking include a child or adult who:
· Has a manager or ‘pimp’
They may refer to him as their someone they are in a relationship with (even though he is older) or a relative.
· Can’t move freely and appears to be controlled (although some are allowed to go shopping and visit friends, they are closely watched and have restrictions)
· If a child, and they are dressed in an inappropriate way for their age to attract customers
This can happen to victims of all ages, and child victims will often dress/behave inappropriately because of what they are exposed to
· Seems fearful, timid and avoid eye contact
· Is fearful of police contact
· Seems to be in debt to someone
· Has signs of abuse (physical and mental), malnourishment, anxiety, bruising, scars, memory issues, lack of medical care
· Does not appear to have their own possessions.
· Is moved from city to city frequently
· Has tattoos or brands that signify ownership
Sex Trafficking predators use psychological techniques and exploit a person’s vulnerabilities. For instance, if a child is desperate to find someone who will love and take care of them. The human trafficker will groom the victim to get their trust. They will provide gifts and give the impression of love and relationship. A child with low self-confidence and self-esteem is especially vulnerable. At the point the trust is gained, they will be coerced into performing sexual acts for money to give the trafficker.