Most days, you’ll find Corporal Alan Wilkett at the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) community office at the Shops at Wiregrass mall.
Cpl. Wilkett wears many hats, including that of the commander of the Pasco County Human Trafficking Task Force.
For his work on the task force, Wilkett was recently recognized as the “Law Enforcement Official of the Year” at the 2017 Human Trafficking Summit, held in Orlando on October 2. The summit was hosted by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office. She presented the award to Wilkett, along with awards for “Survivor Advocate of the Year,” “Community Advocate of the Year,” and “Prosecutor of the Year.”
“The award was given to one, but it was earned by many,” says Wilkett. “I didn’t earn it on my own. It’s a team effort by a lot of people, all who are as passionate as I am about ending human trafficking in our area, in Pasco County, in Florida and in the United States.”
Wilkett explains that working to eradicate human trafficking has been part of his job for about seven years. As efforts and awareness of trafficking have increased, he said he’s found that he’s spending more and more time fighting this heinous crime.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work in law enforcement for 20-plus years,” Wilkett says, explaining that he’s investigated all kinds of crimes, including child abuse. “In the course of investigating complaints, we would stumble across things that now we would know as human trafficking. At the time, we didn’t really understand that we had something so comprehensive. When the Trafficking Victims Protection Act became law in 2000, I looked back over my career and saw opportunities to have made a much bigger impact in the lives of people who were affected by this crime. That’s when I became very passionate about ending human trafficking.”
He says it’s a huge business. Using the lowest number that is agreed upon, from the International Labor Organization, estimates are that human trafficking is a $150-billion-per-year business with 20.9-million victims. The United Nations says 27 million victims.
“It’s abhorrent that in the U.S. — the land of the free, home of the brave — that we would have this modern day slavery in our communities. We’re going to end this. I don’t know that we’ll end it in my career, but I can sow the seeds.”
In Wesley Chapel, Though?
You might think it’s limited to the seedier parts of the Tampa Bay area. But, is the human trafficking going on in Wesley Chapel?
Cpl. Wilkett says yes.
“It’s so entrenched in our fabric, it’s in every single community,” he says. “It could be the landscaping guy cutting the grass in a gated community, the construction crew on a new business, going on right in our own shadows. It could be a gated community in Wesley Chapel where girls are being kept during the day and then going to the street at night. We’ve seen examples of all of these things.”
He says he’s seen a “groundswell” in Pasco County, where people are saying, “It can’t happen in our community, in Wesley Chapel, in our country.”
And, Wilkett says there are ways everyone can get involved to end human trafficking.
“If you’re a member of a group – any group – ask that group if they would consider having a presentation,” he says. “We’ll talk about what it is, what to look for, and how to stop it.” Your group could also hold a collection drive to gather toiletries, shoes or clothes to support the organizations that help victims of this horrific crime to recover.
He says that once you know the signs, behaviors, and indicators, “you can be (our) eyes and ears out in the community.” He says don’t take direct action, but call 9-1-1 or the Human Trafficking hotline at (888) 373-7888.
Also, January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Mark your calendar now and plan to attend “Light Up The Night” at the Shops of Wiregrass on Saturday, January 20. Search “Light Up The Night Wiregrass” on Facebook for more information.