LORAIN, OHIO - An interesting thing happened on the way to patrolling international water on Lake Erie. Deputies gathered intelligence that the wide open water of Lake Erie could also be used for human trafficking.
The Lorain County Sheriff’s Department was awarded a first-of-its-kind, technologically advanced patrol boat in 2011 through a Homeland Security grant to protect the northern border from terrorists using the Great Lakes to transport materials for dirty bombs.
David James who operates the boat for the Lorain County Sheriff's Department said the boat is equipped with sophisticated equipment and can detect radiological and nuclear material on recreational boats or freighters illegally entering Lake Erie. Deputies have also used the boat to gather intelligence during patrols and interdictions or boat checks that have led to major drug investigations. The boat is also used for search and rescue.
But intelligence gathering led to a surprising discovery. There’s another growing illegal activity that this boat can help prevent.
The Lorain County Sheriff Department's Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh said so much focus has been placed on ports of entry in Detroit and Buffalo that human traffickers are possibly using boats to cross from Canada into United States water during summer months. Human traffickers illegally bring people into the county for the abusive sex trade or cheap labor.
Boats being used by human traffickers could blend in with recreational boaters, especially near the Lake Erie islands where thousands of boaters gather during summer weekends.
The sheriff's department boat uses heat-sensing technology that indicates the number of people on board or where someone might be hiding on a boat. The boat's infrared technology can show a person in the water or on a boat in total darkness by making a monitor appear as if it's nearly daylight.
Working very closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Lorain County Sheriff’s department patrols 22 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, but most intelligence gathering missions are conducted nearly 20 miles from shore near Canadian water.
Investigators on the boat, a Boston Whaler 350 Challenger, work in conjunction with Homeland Security’s Northern Border Initiative.
The boat has enormous horsepower and tops out at nearly 60 mph. It has a touch screen that allows a computer to drive and guide it to an exact location on the lake..
The boat can team up with seven northern Ohio counties for mutual aid on a wide range of needs, but this shift in focus sheds new light on the growing concern over increased human trafficking.
Recent missions have been taking place in the evening or at night, but mission times vary which means you never know when the boat will be docked or out on the lake 20 miles from land.
The federal grant paid for the half million dollar boat.
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