Human trafficking an issue for Placer County law enforcement
Editor’s note: This is part three of a four-part series looking at human trafficking in Placer County. The first week was an overview on human trafficking. Last week looked at signs that point to sex trafficking. Next week looks at what groups are doing to eliminate the problem.
Law enforcement officers in Placer County recognize that human trafficking is an issue here. The victims are typically underage and of all ethnicities.
And human trafficking for sex has moved largely from the streets and sidewalks of some neighborhoods to the internet’s social media platforms.
Sgt. Darren Kato of the Roseville Police Department’s Crime Suppression Unit said Roseville has a problem with pimps and pandering.
“Anytime you have victims who are continuously victimized, anytime you have young people victimized in this lifestyle, it is an issue,” Kato said. “But if you look at the scale, it’s not at the level of Las Vegas, Los Angeles or even Sacramento.”
His team works on a victim-centered approach, according to Kato.
“We focus on underage victims and work on the supply and demand theory,” Kato said. “We try to save and rescue the children, arrest pimps and move forward on charges and, on the demand side, work to reverse John stings.”
A “John” is a customer looking to pay for sex.
The department’s efforts have been very successful, Kato said. Last August, Roseville’s Crime Suppression Unit went through some changes and the direction shifted to a combination of victim-centered approach and supply-and-demand suppression.
Kato said the reverse stings can be a deterrent because the Johns don’t know if they may be showing up at a police operation.
“We need to stay on top of and work both sides, supply and demand,” Kato said. “If there is no demand, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Detective Adam Cline, with the Auburn Police Department and a member of the Placer County Special Investigations Unit, a California Department of Justice task force; agreed with Kato and said human trafficking is an issue everywhere.
“Anywhere there’s a motel,” Cline said. “The demand for sex is everywhere. It’s a problem anywhere you go. Human trafficking in Placer County is not at the level of Sacramento but we do get a lot of pimps coming over from Sacramento. They travel a lot and go to all areas.”
Cline added that Placer County, with I-80 running through it from San Francisco to Reno, is an easy place to stop and work.
Lt. Scott Horrillo of the Rocklin Police Department said he could not find any cases dealing with human trafficking in the last two years. However, during a county-wide human-trafficking operation, conducted Jan. 24 to Jan. 27, five women were cited and released for prostitution, one man was arrested for solicitation and two men were cited and released for pimping.
In Lincoln, according to Lincoln Police Chief Doug Lee, the Placer County Special Investigations Unit investigated a human-trafficking case that resulted in one arrest and the department is currently investigating a person suspected of grooming two juvenile females for human trafficking.
And during the county-wide human-trafficking operation in January, six women were cited and released for prostitution and one person was arrested for pimping and pandering. The arrests and citations were made at the Lincoln Holiday Inn Express.
Gina Swankie, a public affairs specialist with the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office, said commercial sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking occurs in virtually every city and is a hidden crime that generally occurs away from public view. The FBI’s Sacramento office has a task force on human trafficking in place since 2006.
“All communities are at equal risk,” Swankie emailed the newspaper. “Regions or cities are not ranked as the arrests and convictions of traffickers are the result of public awareness and law enforcement resources dedicated to identifying, investigating and prosecuting this criminal activity.”
Swankie added there is a myth that the Sacramento region is second in the nation for human trafficking.
“That is simply not true,” Swankie said. “No available data backs that claim.”
Generally speaking, Roseville’s Kato said, “we target and go after the supply side” of human trafficking.
“We’re trying to look for underage victims as well as clues in their ads on social media. Either they won’t show their face in the ad or look very young,” Kato said. “We get all types, all ethnicities and ages from 15 to almost 60, and all in Roseville. You can’t stereotype the victims.”
Typically, Cline said, the human trafficking victims his group sees are female prostitutes.
“Some may get recruited as young as 12. In some cases, we’ve seen girls (working as prostitutes) between the ages of 12 and 14,” Cline said. “Girls are recruited young because it is easier. Girls with issues in their lives are targeted: family problems, runaways. We’ve seen girls recruited out of the Placer County juvenile hall.”
Cline said he also sees victims who are foreign-speaking and are new arrivals to the United States.
“Some are Chinese immigrants who are disadvantaged and need money and they end up in L.A. and then our area,” Cline said. “They arrive in Flushing, N.Y. and then to Los Angeles.”
The FBI’s Swankie said victims are those who are vulnerable and have physical or emotional needs that will seemingly be met by their traffickers.
“Victims sometimes believe that they are in a romantic relationship with their exploiter or feel trapped in the cycle because of what the exploiter says the victim owes him or her,” Swankie said.
Kato said traffickers in Placer County come in all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities and from ages 15 to 50, male and female.
“To stereotype the traffickers would be very wrong in my opinion,” Kato said. “We’ve held multiple undercover stings and we’ve seen every walk of life.”
In Placer County, Cline said, traffickers are usually men from ages 18 to 50 and all ethnicities.
“In the Asian culture, it is massage parlors,” Cline said. “We see a lot of that in our area.”
Traffickers are individuals who seek financial gain by exploiting another person, Swankie explained.
“The only thing exploiters have in common is greed and they use force, fraud or coercion to control their victims,” Swankie said. “Exploiters are very diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity.”
Kato said the customers in Roseville who support human trafficking are anywhere from ages 18 to 70 and generally males.
“But we’ve also arrested females,” Kato said.”There isn’t a stroll or track in Roseville or Placer County. Some cities still have them but it’s not common.
A “stroll” or “track” is an area or neighborhood where prostitutes walk and look for customers.
“It all went to social media and the internet, where dates can be arranged online,” Kato added. “They try to make it sound as agreeable as possible, using words like date, and that both parties are agreeable and there are no victims. That is not true.”
During the John stings, Cline said, he has seen all ethnicities and ages are from 20 to 50.
“In Placer County, we really don’t have walkers. The issues here are at the hotels where they work out of,” Cline said. “For Placer County, the biggest human trafficking issues are at the hotels, on social media and the massage parlors.
Walkers are prostitutes who work outside and walk the sidewalks of certain neighborhoods looking for customers.
“Traffickers typically recruit off FaceBook and Instagram,” Cline added. “They act like they’re friends of the girls and then switch to ‘here’s a job.’”
Buyers come from all walks of life, Swankie agreed.
“The customers of traffickers, whether the crime is commercial sexual exploitation of children or human trafficking, are diverse as well,”Swankie said. “They come from every walk of life imaginable.”
Leaving the life
Kato said most victims of human trafficking have been victims before and it is difficult for them to see a way to leave the life.
The “life” is a term for working as a prostitute.
“We practice a victim-centered approach and focus on young ladies and men. We don’t treat them as suspects,” Kato said. “The police department is not equipped to provide training and counseling to break the cycle. That’s why we partner with non-government organizations like Stand Up Placer.
“Once they decide to leave the life, they need support. Typically, they have not had much support in their life,” Kato added. “Stand Up Placer goes on every (human trafficking) operation and they are thoroughly embedded in our approach. That partnership is a good one.”
Also, Kato said, it’s important to note how to keep from becoming a victim.
“If your parents and family members are involved, then these things are less likely to happen,” Kato said. “Having nosy parents, who are interested in their child’s social media accounts, helps. Kids who are engaged are less likely to be exposed to or participate in this type of behavior.”
Swankie said it is important for law enforcement and the public to work together. The FBI works closely with state and local law enforcement to recover victims so they can receive services, according to Swankie.
“In this region, we have the good fortune of an aware public who contact law enforcement with their concerns, enabling victims to be recovered and exploiters apprehended so they cannot victimize others,” Swankie said. “We continue to work with agencies beyond those participating in our task force. The FBI also has a strong partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to help identify victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.”
“Also, not all situations involve obvious trafficking,” Swankie added. “In the case of labor trafficking, for example, customers may not be aware that the person they may interact with is a victim.”