PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) troopers participated in a human trafficking awareness operation Tuesday, Jan. 11.

The operation included FHP troopers from the Office of Commercial Vehicle Enforcement (CVE), Patrol Operations, Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Intelligence and the Contraband Interdiction Unit. These units conducted roadside enforcement with a focus on commercial vehicles, while also keeping an eye out for human traffickers on the road.

Troopers from FHP’s Criminal Interdiction Unit, including said they want human traffickers to know they’re looking for them.

FHP K-9 handler Ethan Ellerbee shares the same sentiment.

“We just want each and everyone of them to know that we’re here,” said Ellerbee. “Our presence will be known and our mission to stop each and everyone of them.”

On Tuesday, troopers focused enforcement efforts to identify criminal activity in regard to human trafficking or any exploitation of persons, and to bring awareness to commercial vehicle drivers on indicators of human trafficking.

FHP Lt. Jason King siad troopers are trying to educate residents on how they can report human trafficking.

(Troopers) are handing them education flyers saying, “here’s the information. Look for these signs,” said King. “You’re in truck stops. You’re in rest areas that we’re not in all across the nation. Take the time to look for something that looks out of place.”

FHP troopers said human trafficking is everywhere, especially along Interstate 10.

“Typically, the smugglers and traffickers try to blend in with traffic,” Ellerbee said. “It’s our job to pick them out.”

Trooper Carlos Lopez said a simple traffic stop in December led to two human trafficking arrests which saved 9 people, including a child, from being used for labor.

“A few of the ones in the vehicle were brought over and actually paying off a debt by working and doing labor,” Lopez said. “People sometimes don’t believe that they’re actually victims. They believe they are being brought into the country to live a better life but often times more than not, they’re not.”

As troopers work to catch traffickers, the FHP said the public can help by reporting suspicious activity. 

“If they see something, make sure they call,” Ellerbee said. “We’ll be more than happy to investigate it.”