Hotel employees learning signs of human trafficking

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) Hotel workers across Brown County are being trained to help investigators spot one of the fastest growing crimes in our area.

It's not at all the topic you'd expect hotel managers and executives to discuss in lodging meetings, but human trafficking is on the agenda.

"We've needed this," says Ron Zellers, general manager at Hampton Inn in Ashwaubenon. "Even though we didn't know we needed it, we needed this. It's actually a really big situation."

The Greater Green Bay Lodging Association is working with Brown County investigators to learn the signs of human trafficking.

They're then training employees, specifically front desk staff or cleaning crews.

"People check into a hotel. They don't typically leave and come and have lots of visitors, so once you know what you're looking for, the trends really stand out, so the front desk will see a lot, a lot of what's going on," says Zellers.

Some signs may be more obvious than others.

They'll look for things like women not dressed for the weather or people who pay with re-chargeable debit cards.

There's much more to watch for, though, like a lack of luggage, guests with multiple phone calls to their rooms, a refusal to have their room cleaned or people hanging out in the hallways or monitoring the area.

"It's stuff that when you tell somebody, then they pick up on it and say oh, yeah, I've had that, I've seen that," says Sgt. Matt Wilson with the Brown County Sheriff's Office. "But if you don't know about it and you don't think it's in your area, you're not going to pick up on it and say, oh, man, we need to call the police about this."

Investigators are asking all hotels to be watchful, saying human trafficking doesn't just happen at economy hotels.

"They're actually staying in the hotel room, or they'll stay in the room next door, so they don't obviously want to stay in squalor either, so they're looking for a decent hotel, for a decent price to stay," says Wilson, who specializes in human trafficking investigations.

This partnership gives hotel staff more direct access to human trafficking investigators who hope a fast response will lead them to potential victims more quickly.

"Asking the girls, listen, do you feel like you're being trafficked? Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Are you just working off a debt to this person?" says Wilson. "We're here to help, and we have services that can help."

"It's not always obvious. You don't know what's happening, so with the education, with the tips, it's a win-win situation for both us as hotels and the department," says Zellers.