450 people arrested, 39 victims rescued during statewide anti-human trafficking operation: L.A. officials

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An LAPD patrol vehicle is seen in May 2017. (KTLA)

An LAPD patrol vehicle is seen in May 2017. (KTLA)

Authorities made hundreds of arrests and rescued dozens of adult and juvenile victims during an annual statewide operation to combat human trafficking, Los Angeles law enforcement agencies announced Thursday.

More than 100 federal, state and local agencies, and task forces participated in “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild” across California, between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The statewide effort resulted in 450 people arrested, 51 of which were for an alleged felony crime. During the weeklong operation, 39 victims were rescued, including 13 children.

Those figures were announced during a joint news conference late Thursday morning involving LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, among others.

Officials emphasized that the number of arrests and rescues during the operation represent just a fraction of the total made during the year.

“There are still operations that take place 365 days out of the year as well,” L.A. sheriff’s Capt. Michael Hannemann said.

The captain recounted several cases from the most recent operation.

There was one from Jan. 26, when a missing 15-year-old girl from Nevada was rescued after investigators with the San Luis Obispo County’s counter-human trafficking answered an online sex advertisement and arranged a meetup. Authorities were also able to apprehend her suspected trafficker following a brief pursuit, according to Hannemann.

That same day, LAPD vice officers rescued three young female individuals after seeing them “engaging in possible commercial sex activity” near 76th and Figueroa streets, in the Vermont Knolls neighborhood of South Los Angeles, the captain said.

A vehicle approached them and the three drove away. A traffic stop was conducted on the vehicle and officers detained three males and the three females, two of whom were underage, according to Hannemann. Investigators determined that one of the men had been trafficking the females, leading to his arrest.

And on Jan. 28, investigators with the Sacramento and Elk Grove police departments were working on an operation focusing on child molesters and trafficking when they discovered a sex ad involving a 21-year-old. The woman was known from a previous case to have been developmentally disabled, Hannemann said.

Detectives set up a date to meet with the victim, hoping she’d be dropped off by her exploiter. That led to the 21-year-old being rescued and taken to a safe house, and the arrest of a female suspect on suspicion of human trafficking, according to the captain.

Authorities did not release the names of any of the arrestees in those incidents.

In L.A. County, there wasn’t a decline in commercial sex activity, even with the COVID-19 pandemic that spurred a series of stay-at-home orders.

“’While the pandemic has kept many of us at home with our families, the brutal reality is that commercial sex has continued over the last year,” said Deputy District Attorney Guillermo Santiso, the supervising attorney for the DA’s human sex trafficking section.

He noted that even though the number of cases filed appeared to be lower in 2020, that was not necessarily an indicator that commercial sex activity declined.

“Based on my experience, it has increased,” Santiso said. “And resources have been diverted due to civil unrest and the pandemic that caused there to be this decrease in the filings.”

Cases were on the rise the year prior in California, according to figures from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

In 2019 — when its numbers were last updated — the hotline estimated at least 1,500 cases were reported in the state of California. That was nearly double the number of cases for the previous year.

“California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in our country, with Los Angeles still a hotbed of activity,” L.A. City Councilman John Lee said during Thursday’s briefing. “Now criminal street gangs have gotten involved because it’s become more lucrative than trafficking weapons and drugs.”

Last year, “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild” netted 518 arrests and the rescue of 87 victims across the state; in 2019, the same operation resulted in 337 arrests and 48 rescues.

And earlier this week, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department announced that an anti-trafficking operation there resulted in 64 arrests and two victims rescued.

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