Hyland was a police officer for 30 years until retiring from the force as a detective inspector in 2014. As a detective Hyland specialised in various crimes throughout his policing career including homicide, gun crime, anti-corruption and then human trafficking and slavery. When working as a senior investigating officer, Hyland was responsible for the convictions of a large number of international organised crime groups, which included conducting multi-national JITs (joint investigation teams) bi-lateral prosecutions various criminal offences including money laundering, corruption, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
In 2010 Hyland was appointed as the lead for the London Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit. During Hyland’s tenure the London Metropolitan Police saw an increase in victim identifications and successful prosecutions of traffickers.
The creation of an Independent Commissioner is one of the main provisions of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. Hyland was appointed to the role in November 2014 and acted as ‘designate’ Commissioner until the Bill received Royal Assent in March 2015, when he became Commissioner.
The Commissioner is a national official who works to ensure that modern slavery is tackled in a coordinated and effective manner, including strong international collaboration. The Commissioner is required to publish annual reports for Parliamentary scrutiny.
Kevin Hyland alleges that young children are made to do begging, pickpocketing and shoplifting in a manner similar to what happens in the novel, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Hyland maintains 151 convictions for slavery-related offences occurred in 2014 which he felt was far too few. Hyland claims further police are doing too little to prevent contemporary slavery in the UK, he said:
I see cases where I'm meeting victims and hear their cases have not been investigated properly. These are things that really need to change, what's really worrying is the numbers of investigations aren't sufficiently high. The reason why people are choosing this form of criminality is because there aren't the resources tackling it.
Hyland wants police forces to make dealing with slavery, "one of the highest priorities".
In 2016 Hyland urged members of the public in London to report any brothels and flats used for prostitution. He also called on ministers to deport foreign diplomats found to be keeping staff in slave conditions, and to implement reforms intended to make it easier for victims to escape abusive employers.
Hyland helped to establish the Santa Marta Group, a body comprising international law enforcement agencies, civil society, NGOs and the Catholic Church.
The Group was launched by Pope Francis at the Vatican in April 2014, and is named after the Papal residence, where delegates stayed during the first meeting. At the launch Pope Francis described human trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society; a crime against humanity”.
The Group was developed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales in collaboration with the London Metropolitan Police and is led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster.
Hyland was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for "services to Combating Human Trafficking" in the 2015 New Year Honours.