Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Operation
For the past six months, Arizona police departments and law enforcement officers have conducted continuing, proactive operations to address commercial sex trafficking in anticipation of the Super Bowl activities Arizona. In the early part of 2014, the Phoenix Police Department, Chandler Police Department, Glendale Police Department, Mesa Police Department, Scottsdale Police Department, Tempe Police Department, Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed to work together in order to create a unified front to combat sex trafficking and recover juvenile and adult victims of sex trafficking. Beginning in June 2014, agencies conducted monthly operations and engaged in three weeks of continuing operations in January 2015. The goal of these joint operations was to attack the three facets of sex trafficking, including recovering victims, demanding reduction of customers soliciting sex, and arresting traffickers. The unified effort of local and federal agencies was to discourage and disrupt trafficking in all cities surrounding the greater Phoenix area leading up to the Super Bowl.
Chief Debora Black of the Glendale Police Department stated, “The goal of this cooperative effort between agencies, detectives, and victims’ advocates was to identify and rescue juvenile and adult victims being trafficked in the sex industry, as well as to identify and arrest sex traffickers within the city of Glendale. Our efforts to aid those in need and find those who prey will continue as we stand together against human trafficking.”
During these operations, law enforcement agencies conducted continuing recovery operations, directed at locating and recovering victims of sex trafficking. During these operations, valley agencies recovered numerous juvenile victims, ranging in age from 13 to 17, as well as adult victims who had been subjected to physical abuse by their traffickers. While conducting recovery operations, law enforcement officers offered all persons contacted a chance to meet with victim services. These victims were also provided a contact card with the phone numbers of law enforcement and local shelters.
Chandler Police Statement issued a statement, stating, “The men and women of the Chandler Police Department are steadfast in our commitment to aggressively conducting operations and investigations that target traffickers and identify victims. We continue to develop collaborative partnerships and advance our investigative capabilities with regard to this purpose. Our Victims Services Unit has been instrumental in assuring we provide victims with the resources needed to reclaim their lives. We would like to thank our partners at GPAHTTF for helping to coordinate the series of operations over the past several months that lead to the apprehension of traffickers and the recovery of victims.”
Scottsdale Police Department stated, “Juvenile sex trafficking is an issue that can affect every community. The Scottsdale Police Department is committed to enforcing all applicable laws and rescuing those victimized by this horrific crime.”
The participating police departments also conducted reoccurring undercover operations that targeting customers soliciting commercial sex. These operations included local agencies posing as adult men and women, as well as children as young as 11 years old. When the customer arrived at a location to engage in prostitution with the undercover officer, posing as an adult or juvenile, they were arrested by law enforcement authorities. The goals of these operations were to target the demand of sex trafficking and cause the customers to be always mindful that they may be communicating with law enforcement. Part of these demand reduction operations included all of the agencies participation in the National Day of Johns, during which Arizona arrested 150 customers soliciting prostitution and a second week-long operation that resulted in the arrest of 84 johns.
Tempe Police Department Chief of Police Tom Ryff said, “The distressing reality is that prostitution is a crime in which the damage is all too often overlooked and underestimated. It occurs in every community, impacting children, adults, and families both directly and indirectly. Those forced into a life of prostitution are abused physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is a high demand for minors, and the ‘johns’ who engage in sex exploitation cut across all social, economic, and age demographics. Tempe Police, in partnership with the FBI and local law enforcement, will continue to target and combat the traffickers, pimps, and consumers who profit so wrongly from what they view as disposable lives.”
Law enforcement agencies also targeted sex traffickers throughout the operations, wanting to hold those behind the recruitment and trafficking of females responsible for their continued victimization of women and children. During these operations, valley agencies targeted traffickers through the strength and courage of victims’ testimony, as well as through undercover operations where the trafficker would recruit an undercover officer into prostitution, believing the undercover was a juvenile or vulnerable female. As a result of these efforts, there have also been dozens of new investigations into traffickers that were initiated and are ongoing.
Mesa Police Department issued a statement, stating, “The collaboration among the participating agencies in preparation for the Super Bowl was just the beginning of Arizona law enforcement’s efforts to combat this horrific crime. The Mesa Police Department is committed to protecting our children from the buyers and traffickers who wish to exploit them. We realize this fight cannot be successful without partnering with the community and other law enforcement agencies, and we are honored to be part of the progress that has been made thus far. While the Super Bowl may be finished, our efforts to rescue victims of trafficking and hold their exploiters accountable will continue.”
The past six months of operations were a tremendous success, led by the long hours and dedication of Arizona law enforcement agencies. Through their continuing efforts, hundreds of victims were recovered and/or offered services that provide them a way out of the life of prostitution. Through the unified participation of all agencies’ efforts, 360 customers of commercial sex were arrested, 68 traffickers were arrested, and 30 juvenile victims were recovered.
Douglas G. Price, Special Agent in Charge, FBI-Phoenix stated, “Sex trafficking is something that occurs in every city and state but is routinely ignored or has a blind eye turned to it. Arizona has many dedicated police departments and law enforcement agencies who have taken a continued proactive approach to this crime. Their efforts have resulted in the assistance to and recovery of numerous victims and prosecutions of those that continually exploit young women for commercial sex. Our office is fortunate to work alongside those agencies.”
Chief Joseph Yahner of the Phoenix Police Department stated, “The Phoenix Police Department is a proud member of this important task force and the work being accomplished by these agencies should serve as a model to law enforcement across the country. The work could not be more important as the effects of this criminal behavior touch everyone in our community.”