* This column is scheduled to be published in the Anaheim Bulletin on May 1.
The Anaheim Police Department’s approach to policing sex workers shifted four years ago.
They began treating them as victims, offering services and trying to help them get off the streets.
Since then, they’ve rescued more than 380 women while pursuing and arresting dozens of the pimps who enslave them and profit off their bodies. It’s an approach that has earned praise from federal law enforcement and has become a model for police agencies around the nation.
But as we learned recently, it’s not just pimps who victimize women sex workers.
Tragically, women sometimes find themselves confronted by violent predators aiming to satisfy deranged desires.
Two registered sex offenders were arrested on suspicion of raping and killing four women: Martha Anaya, 28, Josephine Vargas, 34, Kianna Jackson, 20 and Jarrae Estepp, 21.
Police also announced that the suspects, Steven Dean Gordon, 45, and Franc Cano, 27, terrorized and killed at least one other yet-to-be-identified woman.
Mayor Tom Tait called it a “sad and solemn” situation.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas commended investigators for putting “a stop to a serial killing that would have likely continued.”
The case has drawn national headlines.
One aspect of the case that has drawn significant attention is the way investigators solved the case – using GPS histories from ankle bracelets worn by the registered offenders, who were on parole.
Shortly after March 14, when Estepp’s body was found at an Anaheim recycling center, investigators began examining monitoring devices worn by local registered sex offenders.
The goal: to see if they could link one or more to the location of the victims.
Their effort paid off.
Within about a week of the discovery of the body, investigators had identified the suspects, connecting them to Estepp and the three missing women from Santa Ana.
The bodies of the Santa Ana women have not been found, nor has the body of the unidentified fifth victim.
The sad reality is that Orange County – with is wonderful climate, beautiful beaches and tourist attractions – is an attractive place for pimps and sex workers to do business.
It’s another sad reality is that there’s no shortage of homicides for police to solve.
Here’s hoping investigators and prosecutors can bring justice for the victims’ families.
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