Isanti County adds financial weapon for fighting human trafficking

Isanti County law enforcement officials who assist in investigating and arresting those involved with human trafficking throughout the state of Minnesota will now have the opportunity to be reimbursed for overtime and other expenses that occur if any of the individuals arrested are working with the Line 3 Project.

The Isanti County Board approved an amendment to its joint powers agreement between the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Human Trafficking Task Force at its meeting March 17. 

The Line 3 Project is the construction of a pipeline expansion across the state of Minnesota owned by Enbridge. The project was issued a permit by Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and a requirement for the permit is that Enbridge create a Public Safety Escrow Account making funds available to public safety service providers involved in human trafficking enforcement activities related to the pipeline, according to the amendment. 

Isanti County Investigator Kevin Carlson presented the amendment to the board, noting he has been an affiliate member of the task force since the initial joint powers agreement was signed about two to three years ago. 

“It has been beneficial for our county, because we’ve learned a lot from the area operations we have done throughout the state,” Carlson said, noting he and Cambridge Police Detective Jason Harvey were recently in Grand Rapids where the task force completed the first of what is more than likely several operations focusing on the Line 3 Project.  “Between Detective Harvey and I, we’ve posed as undercover chat officers and I chatted in two of the seven people that we arrested. Detective Harvey chatted in one, as well.”

Investigators have learned a lot being on the task force, which Carlson explained is helpful in having stronger prosecutions of individuals involved in human trafficking. 

Two of the people arrested during the operation in Grand Rapids were involved in the Line 3 Project, one a supervisor on the project and another a laborer, according to Carlson.

“I don’t know if you recall, but about two years ago we did one of these operations right here in Cambridge. We arrested nine people. So, it’s here. It’s that we have to become aware of it,” Carlson told the board. “It’s just like a drug thing, where, unless you are looking for it, you might not understand what you are looking at. So, it has got me more aware, and our county attorney’s office and victim services, amongst other resources, have been developing a protocol for about six or seven years for the response to human trafficking. We’re nearing completion on that.”

Commissioner Morris asked if there were plans to educate the community more about human trafficking in order to be the “eyes and ears” and assist law enforcement in recognizing when someone may be a victim of human trafficking. 

Part of the protocol is to educate places such as hotels and other businesses that could be affected by human trafficking, according to Carlson. He also noted that Isanti County Victim Services Coordinator Brenda Skogman will go public with any input, questions, and concerns that the public may have when the protocol is ready to be implemented. 

“It’s here. When we have done operations outside of Isanti County, I’ve chatted with people from this area,” Carlson said. “They just don’t want to do it in their backyard, but we know that it is people from this area that are going somewhere else and, unfortunately, there’s no demographics that really stand out. We’ve arrested an emergency room doctor; we’ve arrested an attorney; we’ve arrested all sorts. It’s quite the eye-opener.”

During symposiums hosted by the Association of Minnesota Counties, Morris said she has learned that those who participate in human trafficking like the rural areas of Minnesota where they can find a more remote house that is harder to watch, and it’s easier to get away with stuff. “A lot of people think it is just a metro problem, it’s not a rural problem at all,” she commented. 

Although Carlson said he has not seen anything quite like that in the county, he acknowledged he is still learning more and more about it. 

The huge network that makes up the task force is useful in being able to bounce ideas off one another and share information, he said. “If we have someone involved in suspected human trafficking in one location, chances are they are probably active in another.,” he continued. “And, nowadays, its a matter of getting in a car and driving 35 minutes to the metro. I can’t give all their secrets away. There’s things that we are able to monitor as far as how they communicate with a manager versus their worker to go meet their next client, and it’s quite shocking.”

Morris pointed out that Minnesota passed legislation recognizing that those who are being trafficked, although participating in illegal activity, are viewed as victims and given resources to overcome drug addiction and the trauma they have faced, rather than being prosecuted like typical people involved in drugs. Drugs are often used to keep control over human trafficking victims, she noted.   

“Part of the operations are rescue recovery, setting aside a day for rescue recovery where we have scoured different ads from a variety of websites and we’ve brought these people in and offered them services,” Carlson said. “But, the sad part is we have to convince them that they are being victimized, and they don’t see it that way. There’s a lot of threats and intimidation by somebody else that’s managing them and controlling their movements, what they eat, when they eat, what they wear. A lot of psychological control over these people. It’s just sad.”

The board approved the amendment unanimously.

Summer road construction planned

Isanti County roads and bridges to be improved this summer were presented by Engineer Richard Heilman and approved by the board.

County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 21 is planned to be reconstructed from Minnesota Highway 95 to the Isanti/Chisago county line at an estimated cost of approximately $1.24 million.

There are three bridges that will be replaced on CSAH 3 at a cost of approximately $1.84 million.

Pavement preservation projects will take place on CSAH 3 from Rendova Street to east county line; CSAH 10 from Isanti County Road 53 to CSAH 8; CSAH 14 from Minnesota Highway 95 to the Rum River bridge; Isanti County Road 36 from CSAH 6 to CSAH 3; Isanti County Road 42 from CSAH 10 to CSAH 5; and, Isanti County Road 52 from Minnesota Higway 47 to CSAH 5. The total cost of pavement preservation projects is approximately $2.43 million.

Sealcoating will take place on 18.3 miles of county roads at a cost of $366,000, and 17.3 miles of county roads will receive new striping.

The total estimated construction costs for the projects is approximately $6.4 million. Funding will come from state aid (approximately $2.12 million), sales tax (approximately $2.43 million), local funds (approximately $937,000), federal funds (approximately $117,000), bridge bonds (approximately $791,000).

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