Crime & Justice

Human trafficking task force arrests 200 in SF Valley since October

A female police officer poses as a prostitute on Holt Boulevard in Pomona, Calif., in this file photo from November 2015.
A female police officer poses as a prostitute on Holt Boulevard in Pomona, Calif., in this file photo from November 2015.
David McNew/Getty Images

More than 200 people have been arrested by a special human trafficking task force operating for about the last 10 months in the San Fernando Valley.

In October, the Los Angeles Police Department's Operations-Valley Bureau established a human trafficking task force to concentrate on areas along Sepulveda Boulevard and Lankershim Boulevard.

"The prostitution issue in these two corridors in my district has been an ongoing issue for decades," Councilwoman Nury Martinez told KPCC. "I grew up in this area, so I can tell you I’ve always seen girls lined up on Sepulveda Boulevard, Lankershim or San Fernando Road. The only thing that has changed is the girls are getting younger and younger and younger."

Martinez, who secured a $1 million budget allocation this summer to continue funding the task force, announced its results on Monday: Since October, the task force has recorded four arrests for human trafficking, 21 arrests for pimping/pandering, and 177 arrests of johns. Task force officers also issued 2,179 traffic citations, made 87 referrals to nongovernment organizations, rescued 11 victims, and impounded 79 vehicles.

The task force also met with local citizens by phone or in person on combating prostitution in the area.

“Over the past year we have seen much success and built better lines of communication with the community,” LAPD Lt. Marc Evans, head of the task force, said in a statement. “We have arrested many pimps and saved multiple victims, some as young as 14 years old.  That gives the officers in the unit a sense of accomplishment, renewed focus, and makes all the sacrifice and sleepless nights well worth it.”

Serious crime has also decreased in the areas since the task force began operating, Martinez said.

The $1 million allocation that funds the 12-person task force, Martinez said, pays for such things as police officers' overtime, purchasing technology used in the surveillance and tracking of suspects, paying officers to pose as decoys, and spending on rental cars and other equipment used in stings, and assisting girls and young women to transition away from working as prostitutes.

The task force also is working with California State University, Northridge professors to study the "built environment" of the area to determine what changes could be made to discourage prostitution. Martinez said she plans to release the findings from the study by Henrik Minassians, an associate professor of urban studies, and sociologist David Lopez.

"What is it about these two corridors that attracts people here, in the middle of the night, to pick up a young kid as young as 13-year-old and then park around the corner and have sex?" Martinez said.  "… Is it not-sufficient street lighting? What is it about the built environment that attracts people to this area. There has to be something."

The task force also includes Stephany Powell, executive director of Journey Out, an organization that helps victims of sex trafficking.

LAPD is asking the public to help identify additional victims of three pimps/panderers who are currently in police custody, and to help locate three people wanted for human trafficking-related crimes. See their flier below. 

A flier issued by the LAPD's Human Trafficking Task Force.
A flier issued by the LAPD's Human Trafficking Task Force.