Pauls Valley Democrat
In a way social media and a Garvin County law enforcement agency came together in an unusual way thanks to postings related to possible child abductions or even human trafficking.
Sheriff Larry Rhodes has been quick to refute those rumors, many of which have been on Facebook in recent days.
They apparently centered on suspicions about a woman or group of people traveling door-to-door in the rural areas of the county over the past two or three weeks.
Just this week the chatter was about a person going around claiming to be doing surveys for the U.S. Census Bureau.
As it turns out the concerns expressed were unfounded as both checked out OK.
The sheriff is not sure how the posted rumors jumped from suspicion all the way to child abduction and even human trafficking.
“We have seen nothing like that with this individual selling here in Garvin County door-to-door,” Rhodes said.
Although not the case here, the sheriff said there are various forms of what he calls “forced labor” all over the country.
In those cases employees, typically young adults, are forced to meet expected levels of production, often with the sales of a product. If they don’t meet those levels their pay could be withheld or they can face even longer work hours.
In extreme cases an employee could be forced to perform sexual acts, which could potentially lead to the human trafficking scenario.
“We’re aware human trafficking is going on around Garvin County,” Rhodes said, adding he disputes any statistics that rank the county high in the state.
The sheriff quickly adds there are “no real hard facts” about human trafficking here and is unaware of any cases in this county.
As for the various forms of social media, Rhodes knows it continues to be a growing way for people to communicate.
His office currently uses tools like Facebook to get information out and stay connected to the public.
And staying in touch with Garvin County’s residents is something Rhodes said is a priority.
“We like to hear from people with concerns about something they see as suspicious,” the sheriff said.
“We encourage people to call us because we want to know when people go door-to-door in the county. If this is happening we want to know about it.”
In fact, he calls the residents of the county the best source of information for law enforcement.
In this most recent case it was a resident who did contact the sheriff’s office, although the door-to-door saleswoman did check out OK.
Other times it provides authorities with the tips they need to track down real criminals.
For example, it’s a common method of burglars to approach a house and knock on a door to see if anyone is home, Rhodes said.
If they’re not the thief might just use force to get inside. However, if someone is there the thief typically launches into any kind of story to cover their real intention.
Red flags to look for of a possible burglar is when they ask for directions or give a name to see if they live there. They might even claim to be out of gasoline or their vehicle is broken down.
If this happens Rhodes suggests offering to help but only after the authorities have been contacted. Never, he said, let them in your home.
This is why the sheriff’s office should be contacted about concerns, even if the person does wind up to be legitimate.
“We miss burglars by not hearing about people who are going door-to-door,” he said.
“We want to know about those circumstances that are suspicious.”