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Task Force Receives FBI Award

In a private ceremony in Billings with leaders from the local Federal Bureau of Investigation field office and officials flown in from Salt Lake City, UT, the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force was presented with a Director’s Community Leadership Award on behalf of national FBI director Christopher Wray. The special agent in charge of the Salt Lake City region publicly announced the award on the FBI’s website Sept. 20.

Members of the Task Force’s Steering Committee accepted the award, including co-chairs Stephanie Baucus and Penny Ronning, board members Scott Koch, Melanie Tripp and Erin Walker and steering committee members Georgia Cady, Dr. Cynthia Brewer and Zeno Baucus. The task force hosted a small reception after the presentation, where Billings Mayor Bill Cole served as the emcee.

Every year since 1990, the FBI director has selected approximately 50 individuals or organizations from around the country, who have been nominated by their local FBI regions, to receive these awards in recognition of their “outstanding contributions to their communities through service” in fighting crime, terrorism, drug, and violence in America. While each region nominates a person or group every year, the Director does not always present an award to each region. The Task Force was nominated for a 2021 award by the Salt Lake City Division, which covers Utah, Idaho and Montana and Wray honored the Task Force with the award this year. “Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery,” said Rice. “The FBI takes a victim-centered approach, ensuring victims have access to resources while also building a case against traffickers.”

Volunteer co-founders and co-chairs Penny Ronning and Stephanie Baucus created the Task Force in 2016 to improve coordination between law enforcement and members of the public, to help close gaps in services for victims and survivors, to increase collaboration and resource sharing, to increase awareness of sex trafficking and forced labor in the area and to prevent human trafficking. Since its founding, the Task Force has grown to include over 800 peoples and over 100 organizations and agencies who have participated in its projects, events and initiatives across the state and in neighboring states as well.

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