Since 2018, SATI has been pioneering the campaign against human trafficking on Long Island, New York,
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative (SATI) has been honored as the National Sheriffs’ Association 2021 Crime Victim Services Award recipient. The team members who comprise this initiative are Investigator Sergeant Erin Meunkle, the SATI Program Coordinator, and Inv. C/O Kelly Burghardt, an investigator with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, who both work under the oversight of Dr. Errol D. Toulon, Jr., the Suffolk County Sheriff.
Since 2018, SATI has been pioneering the campaign against human trafficking on Long Island, New York, by identifying victims and perpetrators and educating community stakeholders. Present to receive the award on behalf of the SATI Unit on Wednesday, June 23, was Undersheriff Steven Kuehhas.
The NSA recognized the Suffolk County SATI Unit for its exemplary work and commitment to identify human trafficking victims and connect them with life-saving services. The results of the initiative highlight the critical role SATI plays in improving the lives of trafficking victims on Long Island.
Established in 2005 with support from the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the NSA Crime Victim Services Award recognizes outstanding achievement by a sheriff’s office in support of victims, and is sponsored by Appriss Insights —the nation’s leading provider of victim notification services and developer of VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday).
“Appriss Insights is honored to sponsor the National Sheriffs’ Association Crime Victim Services Award once again this year,” said Lalla O’Bryan, Vice President of Victim Services at Appriss Insights. “We are proud of the important work the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Association has done to identify, educate, and assist victims of trafficking through its SATI program.”
“We are extremely honored and humbled to be recognized and receive the 2021 Crime Victim Services Award,” said Sheriff Toulon. “This award brings the issue of human trafficking to the forefront of victim service organizations and demonstrates how correctional agencies can assist in combating this problem on a national scale.”
Since 2018, the SATI Unit has conducted over 2,200 inmate interviews, identified 176 human trafficking victims and 120 perpetrators. This information, coupled with other data mined during interviews, has led to over 475 victim referrals for various services. The unit has also gleaned actionable intelligence from these cases. This information is referred to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Homeland Security, to build substantial cases against traffickers.
The SATI Unit uses a comprehensive screening tool and process to identify and aid victims. The screening system is used for every person who enters the Suffolk County Correctional Facility. SATI Unit investigators train correction officers in the jail’s classification unit to identify signs of victimization as they work with justice-involved individuals. Some of the indicators they are made aware of include possession of hotel key cards, tattoos and markings, physical abuse signs, possession of multiple cell phones and money. Additional screening comprises the use of a questionnaire that asks about life circumstances, housing, employment, history of abuse and neglect, along with other known risk factors for human trafficking victimization.
If a potential victim is identified, the individual is referred to officers with the SATI Unit, who begin to discuss and educate the potential victim about human trafficking. This is a process; often, victims are not fully aware that they have fallen victim to human trafficking, and they are fearful of discussing personal information with members of law enforcement. As the comfort level evolves, SATI officers conduct a more comprehensive interview and then bring in social service and mental health workers to delve more deeply into the issues. Many victims become accepting of the intervention services available to them using this team-based approach, such as post-release safe housing, substance abuse treatment, counseling services, and mental health treatment. In addition, many of these victims begin their recovery and become more willing to share by participating in one of the correctional facility’s designated rehabilitative housing areas, such as the Sheriff’s Addiction Treatment Program.
The SATI Unit has also engaged with the community to help educate residents about the signs of human trafficking. The officers created educational materials and conduct regular outreach with community groups. Additionally, January is the month set aside for Human Trafficking awareness and blue is the color internationally accepted as representative of the endeavor. In recognition, the outside façade of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office in Riverhead, NY is lit up in blue lights every night in January. The officers in the SATI Unit also came up with another unique way to raise awareness this January. They teamed up with the jail’s rehabilitative emergency mask assembly program to create 2000 blue masks, which have been distributed to organizations and visitors to the correctional facility.
“Seeing the victims begin to heal and on their path to recovery is rewarding in itself, and I am humbled and proud to be named the recipients of this award,” said Sgt. Muenkle, who coordinates the SATI Unit. “I believe that it is indicative of the strides that the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) is taking to help the justice-involved individuals and the victims of crimes while they are in our care. It makes me proud to think that the SCSO is building bridges between the community and helping the inmates in our custody.”