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APD’s vice squad rescues 380 women, changes paradigm for policing human trafficking

The FBI published a bulletin last year about a new approach to fighting human trafficking.

Authored by an Anaheim Police lieutenant, the bulletin declared, “human sex trafficking victims equate to modern day slaves” and encouraged a new way for police to think about the growing threat to young women.

To watch a recent KNBC-TV report about APD's vice squad, click on the photo

To watch a recent KNBC-TV report about APD’s vice squad, click on the photo

“The goal became rescuing women from their pimps and redirecting their lives, reducing prostitution one life at a time,” the lieutenant wrote. “This paradigm shift meant considering prostitutes as potential victims and pimps as suspects. This role transition became the basis of a new approach where prostitution activity was viewed as potential human trafficking.”

Developed in 2010, the Anaheim approach has led to a new law, international publicity and has been embraced by other police agencies from around the county, state and world. It also spawned a successful Orange County task force – and eight other regional task force efforts throughout California.

With thriving resort area, which includes a bustling convention center and thousands of hotel rooms, Anaheim is an attractive destination for human traffickers.

Anaheim’s new effort netted significant results almost immediately. In its first year, police arrested 38 pimps and since then earned a 100-percent conviction rate.

Most important, police officials say, APD officers have rescued more than 380 women. Rather than arresting the women, they offer them counseling, job placement services and a path to freedom.

Few have returned to prostitution.

“The results are remarkable,” said Lt. Tim Schmidt.

At the 2011 International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago, Vice Sgt. Craig Friesen was recognized for his efforts in leading the program.Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 7.48.44 AM

But rescuing women is only part of the story.

Getting the public, prosecutors and other police agencies to shift their approach has been equally rewarding, police officials say.

The effort led to tougher laws. Approved by voters in November 2012 by an 81%-19% margin, Proposition 35 allows judges to hand down life sentences to pimps of juveniles and forces those convicted to register as sex offenders.

Anaheim’s efforts also generated significant awareness, including a report that aired Wednesday night on KNBC-TV. Also this week, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced it would dedicate more resources to battling the crime.

“It will require a cooperative, unified effort by Orange County law enforcement to impact Human Trafficking at all levels,” the department’s news release said.

Schmidt said Anaheim is buoyed by the sheriff department’s announcement.

“We can use all the collaborative resources we can get,” he said. “Additional resources, when applied in a focused and leveraged manner, will allow the countywide task force to make an even greater impact than we currently are.”

Police add layer of transparency

* This column was published in today’s edition of the Anaheim Bulletin

By Bill Rams
Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 1.23.16 PM

The police department took yet another step forward this month in its effort to become a model of transparency and community engagement.

The city’s new pilot Public Safety Board adds civilian review to police budgeting, staffing and to the way the department handles incidents such as officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and the use of force.

“Our work is never done and the stronger our partnerships with the community the more success we’ll have in maintaining trust and enhancing the city’s reputation as an outstanding place to live, work and visit,” police Chief Raul Quezada said.

The formation of the board is the latest in a series of new police tools focused on transparency and engagement.

The department continues to test on-body video cameras, which record interactions between officers and the public. Already, officers wear audio recorders. The recorders help protect officers and community members, particularly if allegations of misconduct arise.

“It makes sense for us to have the best possible records of our interactions with the community,” Quezada said.

Quezada already meets monthly with his Police Chief’s Advisory Board and the recently formed Neighborhood Advisory Council, which was designed to improve communication between the department and neighborhoods.

The nine-member Public Safety Board will be composed of community members from every area of the city, and will work with the police department’s external auditor, the Los Angeles Office of Independent Review. The OIR brings decades of law enforcement oversight expertise.

The Office of Independent Review has helped improve policies and procedures in areas ranging from use of force to dealing with the homeless for several California police departments.

Working with OIR, the board will make policy recommendations to Quezada and the city manager. The board and OIR also will make public reports that will delve into the department’s strengths and weaknesses, number of complaints, response times and other matters of public interest.

“We remain committed to serving all segments of our community with professionalism, understanding and compassion,” Quezada said. “Our success requires the trust and partnership of the entire community, and I am certain we will continue to earn both.”

Newspaper, police officials: Anaheim crime on decline

The headline on Orange County Register’s lead story Wednesday: “Anaheim sees decline in crime rates.”photo

A significant reduction in gang crime played a role in the city’s drop in violent crime, police officials told the newspaper.

Crime wasn’t only front-page news; it was front and center Wednesday morning at the police department’s monthly crime analysis meeting.

Police officials said that the downward crime trends noted in the Register’s story have continued into 2014.

Through mid-February, gang, violent and property crimes are down, and there hasn’t been a homicide in Anaheim since October.

The main items on the rise: officer-initiated contacts and calls for service.

But one subject not generating as many calls: homelessness.

The police department’s month-old Homeless Liaison Program, which pairs officers with mental health experts, is already having an impact.

Working with the Coast-to-Coast Foundation, police officers have reunited 12 people with family members from as far away as Florida.

Police officials are looking to expand how they deal with the mentally ill to their jails.

Officer Robert Conklin shared the story of a homeless man who kept being arrested for trespassing at Disneyland. He said he was hearing voices from an old girlfriend, telling him to meet her there.

Investigators tracked down his family, and within a few days, his mother packed him in a car and returned with him to Utah – to get him help.

“Enforcement is our responsibility and if you are homeless or mentally ill and you break the law you will go to jail,” Conklin said. “But after they are in custody, we ask that you engage. Why are they homeless? What issue are you facing? See if there is mental illness there and let’s see if we can get them on an improved path?”

The Register reported that:

– Overall violent crime dropped 11 percent
– Property crime was down 5 percent
– Gang shootings plummeted 62 percent

Finally, Sgt. Craig Friesen said KNBC-TV recently rode along with the department’s human trafficking experts and the report is expected to air tonight.

To read the Register’s story, click here. Warning: you must be a subscriber to read it.

Anaheim PD’s 20-year investment in kids paying off

Retired Anaheim Police Department Capt. Joe Vargas is the new president of the board of directors of Cops 4 Kids. He has a long history with organization – in fact, in 1992, he founded it with Sgt. Chuck Knight.

Ret. Capt. Joe Vargas co-founded Cops 4 Kids. He's now board president.

Ret. Capt. Joe Vargas co-founded Cops4Kids. He’s now board president.

“I was working in the Anna Drive community and got really attached to the children there,” Vargas recalls. “I wanted to do something more for the kids.”

Vargas recently discussed the thriving program, how it plays a key role in steering youth in the right direction and how it has emerged as an important tool the Anaheim Police Department uses to engage the community.

Look East, Young Man
Cops 4 Kids started with an unlikely activity: Karate.

Vargas and Knight came up with the idea of teaching karate at Sycamore Junior High, and inviting kids to spend their time punching, kicking and delivering knee and elbow strikes to their sparring partners.

Cops4Kids drew big crowds when it was founded as the Anaheim Police Activities League more than 20 years ago.

Cops 4 Kids drew big crowds when it was founded as the Anaheim Police Activities League more than 20 years ago.

To recruit kids and teens to show up at the first class, Vargas and Knight cruised down streets, using a loudspeaker on their patrol car to whip up interest.

They figured that maybe a dozen kids would show up, eager to learn such techniques as “knife hands,” “spear hands” and palm-heel strikes.

They were wrong. The head count was closer to 50.

“It was a bit overwhelming to see the number of kids that showed up,” Vargas said.
That class eventually led to the formation of the Anaheim Police Activities League, which later grew into Cops for Kids.

A targeted clientele
Lots of youth programs work with kids in Anaheim. One of the things that makes Cops 4 Kids unique is the way participants are targeted. The organization, working in a collaborative relationship with Anaheim’s school districts, strives to identify kids who can best benefit from the program.

“Specifically,” says Vargas, “we look at behavior problems, poor attendance, or just self-confidence issues.”

Vargas recalls a teacher talking about a gang member who had been convicted of a serious crime.

“I had him in the 5th grade,” the teacher told Vargas. “I could have told you he was going to be a problem.”

Stories like that, says Vargas, underscore the importance of a program like Cops 4 Kids.

Interaction between children and police is an important component of one of the program's goals, which is building trusting relationships, police say.

Interaction between children and police is an important component of one of the program’s goals, which is building trusting relationships, police say.

“If we had listened back then, I suppose a young man would not be in state prison right now,” Vargas says.
Cops 4 Kids tries to be where the needs are most pressing, Vargas says. To that end, the organization has a mobile program that puts officers on the streets. This allows kids to have a chance to interact with cops.

A badge and a gun
Kids tend to notice when a cop enters a room.

“Officers carry a badge and a gun and represent authority, and for kids, that’s a big deal,” Vargas says.

And, he adds, it’s another reason Cops 4 Kids stands out from other youth-oriented programs.

“Kids react differently to a police officer than just about any other adult,” Vargas says. “I mean, think about it: Don’t you react differently when a patrol car pulls up behind you and follows you for a while?”
Vargas says it can be a life-changing event when a child is exposed to positive role model like a uniformed police officer.

Just drop on in

Cops 4 Kids makes it easy for the youth of Anaheim to get involved in the organization. The organization has a drop-in youth center locate next door to Lincoln Elementary.

The organization still offers karate classes at the Downtown Youth Center, and also helps sponsor the Anaheim Boxing Club. But Cops 4 Kids’ most popular program is the Anaheim Police Jr. Cadets, in which about 500 currently are being put through the program.

Kids in the Anaheim Police Jr. Cadets are referred by teachers or brought in by parents who have heard about the program.

Intervention is the key

No child wants to grow up to be a criminal, Vargas notes. Intervention is crucial, he says, to keep kids out of gangs, especially in neighborhoods where pressure to join gangs can be intense.

“If we invest our time, talent and treasure in children, gang violence, juvenile delinquency and crime in general can significantly decrease,” Vargas says. “If we intervene at the earliest stages, we can make our communities safer and better, and we all benefit from that.”

Vargas says he looks forward to continuing to make a difference at Cops 4 Kids.

“It’s now been over 20 years,” he says, “and I’m proud of what the organization continues to do for kids in Anaheim.”

Police: How can we make residents feel safer to report crime?

One of the biggest issues to emerge from Police Chief’s Raul Quezada’s new Neighborhood Advisory Council – the depth of reluctance in some neighborhoods to call police for help.

Chief Quezada chats with Board Member Jose Moreno

Chief Quezada chats with Board Member Jose Moreno

Quezada and his top deputies shared the insight and led a discussion Friday morning with his Chief’s Advisory Board at the Tiger Woods Learning Center.

“We asked them, ‘Why are you afraid to call the police?’” Quezada said, a day after his second meeting with the neighborhoods’ group.

In some cases, residents fear retribution from gang neighbors. Others are undocumented immigrants who mistakenly confuse police for immigration officials.

Board member Dave Lopez, a retired state parole officer, said he sympathizes with those who live in gang neighborhoods.

“Once the cops leave, who is going to protect us?” said Lopez, who has seen gang members near his home intimidate neighbors.

A member of the Neighborhood Advisory Board on Thursday night told police her neighbors near Sunshine Way and Miraloma were parking their cars in front of their garages to protect their property from thieves, who had hit 12 garages.

They were afraid to call police.

“We were all looking at each other,” said Lt. Tim Schmidt. “That’s a big number.”

They should call police, Deputy Chief Julian Harvey said.

Harvey said police prefer if crime victims or witnesses call them and file a report with their names on it. But if they are afraid, they can share crime information anonymously on the department’s website, he said.

In those neighborhoods where there is fear, “we need to go to them,” he said.

Community policing is a big focus. More officers are on foot patrols.  Quezada offered to visit with neighbors in their homes. Harvey said police would soon be adding “Coffee with a Cop” events in more reluctant neighborhoods to help build trust and encourage community partnership.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “When people see that some of their neighbors are willing to work with us that will make a difference.”

New Public Safety Board, medical marijuana, DUI checkpoints on neighborhood council’s agenda

More than 20 members of Police Chief Raul Quezada’s new Neighborhood Advisory Council spent the first 30 minutes of its monthly meeting Thursday evening discussing the city’s new Public Safety Advisory Board.Deputy Chief Julian Harvey, Chief Raul Quezada and Capt. Mark Cyprien

Board members spent the next hour at the Orange County Family Justice Center engaging police leaders in a Q&A on a number of issues, ranging from why police advertise DUI checkpoints to the legality of selling marijuana to garage burglaries.

Approved by the City Council Tuesday, the Public Safety Board (PSB) will add “another layer of transparency,” Quezada told the board.

For more than five years, the police department has worked with the Los Angeles Office of Independent Review to look at and make recommendations regarding policies and its handling of critical incidents, such as officer-involved shootings. Police officers also wear audio records and the police department is looking at video recorders.

Quezada said board will be comprised of nine city-manager appointed residents from every area of the city, and the board will work with OIR to review the police department’s budget, staffing and its handling of critical incidents.

Council members asked several questions about the new PSB: How can residents join? What’s the difference between this board and the Chief’s Advisory Board? Is the new board specific to Anaheim or is civilian review a trend in policing?

Residents can apply through the city manager’s office. Deputy Chief Julian Harvey encouraged residents to look for an ad in an upcoming edition of Anaheim Magazine. The PSB board differs from the chief’s advisory board in that it will review critical incidents and make public reports to the community on the police and fire departments’ performance and policies.

And while the new board is specific to Anaheim, Capt. Jarrett Young predicted civilian review will become the standard over the next decade.

“We don’t know the final format of what the board is going to look at,” Quezada said. “It’s going to support the police department and our mission so we can share more information with the larger community.”

Carmen Leahy and Karen Kules asked how they can get their neighbors more engaged in reporting crime. They said there had been about 12 garage burglaries in their neighborhood, most of which weren’t reported.

Quezada offered to come to their neighborhood and talk to residents, and Lt. Alex Orozco noted that a known gang member had been arrested for at least a few garage burglaries. Facebook and Anaheim Anytime are also good places to encourage neighbors to report crime.

One board member asked about medical marijuana shops. Quezada told him that shops can’t sell the drug in Anaheim.

Another board member shared that a Spanish-language radio station host had criticized a DUI checkpoint outside the Honda Center following a Spanish-language concert on Valentine’s Day.

Police officials explained how police leaders from throughout the county determine DUI checkpoints, based on traffic accidents and other data.

“That’s what it’s about,” said Lt. Tim Schmidt of the meeting. “This kind of dialogue.”

Police: Help us catch the ‘Three Amigos’