Wednesday, June 28, 2017

By Elizabeth Marcellino

Los Angeles County law enforcement officials said Tuesday they are cracking down on sex trafficking on the streets and online and pointed to sports arenas as a magnet for the trade.

The comments came during a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on the success of the county's "first responder protocol."

Under that protocol, sheriff's deputies no longer arrest minors for prostitution, but offer them access to resources to keep them off the streets and instead target customers for arrest.

Despite successes and hundreds of arrests, "The more we look, the more we find," said Capt. Chris Marks, who leads the sheriff's Human Trafficking Bureau.

The Los Angeles Police Department will expand the "first responder protocol" throughout the department in August.

The county task force will next reach out to the Pomona and Inglewood police departments, a task force representative told the board.

"Pomona's plagued. It has been for decades," said Supervisor Hilda Solis, pointing to a concentration of foster placement and group homes as part of the problem.

The rep said the new professional football stadium in Inglewood "will bring an influx of youth being trafficked from across the state and across the nation, quite frankly. So we're trying to really ... work with them to get ahead of that."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested partnering with Metro officials to help curb the problem.

Ridley-Thomas said the task force should also be thinking about StubHub Center in Carson -- where the Los Angeles Chargers will play while the Inglewood stadium is being built -- and said other venues create a similar draw.

"While some of us see it as good news that you have Los Angeles being a sports mecca, (let's) not ignore the underbelly," Ridley-Thomas said.

Ridley-Thomas added that the sheriff's department and the District Attorney's Office should plan to sit down with the owners and developers of sports venues.

"(They) need to know we expect their partnership," Ridley-Thomas said.

Strategies to target demand include identifying probationers convicted of other crimes who have a known history of pimping and stealth tracking of online predators.

The sheriff's department plans to join Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), a network operating in several cities that aims to cut the sex trade by 20 percent over two years.

Marks said the network would help the department partner with technology companies to develop online techniques for disrupting the sex trade and messaging campaigns to deter would-be buyers.

"No buyers, no business," is a rallying cry for CEASE.

The District Attorney's Office is pressing for felony convictions where appropriate, in order to maximize jail time, said Jane Creighton, coordinator for the District Attorney's Office's Human Trafficking Unit.

The typical charge for soliciting is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum six-month jail term and the recommended term for first offenders is two days in county jail.

But even those two days are often waived at a judge's discretion.

"Someone will come forward and give a sob story and the judge will end up waiving those two days," Creighton said.

Where minors are involved, prosecutors look for a felony charge that could force those charged to register as sex offenders, she said.