Councilman Kristerfer Burnett speaks inside City Hall. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

A bill introduced tonight by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett would require all hotel workers in the city–not just new hires–to be trained each year to notice the warning signs of human trafficking.

Burnett’s proposal would require all new employees to be trained in a program approved by the Baltimore City health commissioner within 30 days of being hired, but on top of that, existing employees would need to undergo training once a year. Starting in 2020, a hotel owner or operator would need to certify with the city’s housing commissioner that the entire staff completed the training as required.

The city adopted a law, sponsored by then-Councilman James Kraft, in 2015 requiring the training for new hires. But Burnett said he wants to take it a step further.

“The once is great. When they first get hired, we should very much start from that place,” he said at a press conference inside City Hall. “But if you’ve worked at a place for five years, seven years, 10 years, and you only got that information once, there’s things that may not stand out to you.”

“The intention of amending that is so that there’s a regularly top-of-mind training for hotel workers that’s happening every single year, so that they can be on the front lines and help people who may be being trafficked.”

Burnett has sponsored another bill to require adult entertainment venues, restaurants and hotels to post signage on doors with contact info for the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The measure passed through the full council in December and currently sits on Mayor Catherine Pugh’s desk. He said today he’s confident she will sign it into law.

He’s paired his latest proposal with a resolution to designate January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Baltimore. This month, the city is also hosting neighborhood awareness events, including a forum at the City of Refuge in Brooklyn this Thursday at 6:30 p.m., and has put up billboards to generate awareness through the end of the month.

Stacy Rogers, director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, said today that youth experiencing homelessness or in the foster system are at particular risk. The department faces the challenge of having adequate resources to pair foster youth tied up in human trafficking with organizations that specialize in that field, she said.

Social services departments around the state documented more than 440 cases of sex trafficking between July 2013 and July 2018, involving more than 375 alleged victims who were minors, Burnett’s office said. Most of them were Marylanders between 14 and 17 years old.

Burnett and Thomas Stack, human trafficking coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, together serve as co-chairs of the city’s Human Trafficking Collaborative, which meets regularly and brings together dozens of stakeholders to discuss solutions for trafficking.

Stack said the mayor’s office will soon be doling out $300,000 in grants to local organizations serving trafficking victims and survivors. Rachel Sye, director of anti-human trafficking services for TurnAround Inc. and a member of the collaborative, added that the city will soon have a coordinated protocol for law enforcement, first responders and victim’s services providers to follow when helping trafficking survivors in crisis.

Burnett said most–not all–hotels, including national chains, have adopted policies of regularly training workers to spot the signs of trafficking. But his bill would make it a legally required standard for all of them in Baltimore.

“They are very cognizant that they are the preferred venue—whether it’s in Baltimore City or BWI—for traffickers to try and hold victims,” he said of hotels. “They know it’s a big issue.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...