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.”

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