Scottsdale Police Department working to combat human trafficking in the state
PHOENIX — A Valley police department is working to combat the issue of human trafficking in the state with Arizona having the 13th highest rate for cases reported in the nation.
The Scottsdale Police Department in response to the issue created a human exploitation and trafficking unit in 2020-21 focusing on internet crimes against children and sex trafficking and exploitation.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 193 cases of human trafficking in Arizona for 2020.
Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther told KTAR News 92.3 FM that as people continue to move to Arizona, Phoenix residents become more vulnerable to sex traffickers.
“The sex trade because of the sheer numbers of people that are here and come here is booming,” Walther said.
Walther believes big events like the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction and the Super Bowl increase trafficking numbers drastically.
“When you bring in as many tourists as the Phoenix metropolitan area and Scottsdale do, you’re going to have sex for sale,” Walther said, adding it all starts on the internet.
“Young people are using those chat rooms, are exploring social media platforms, and they get groomed typically by men who are absolute predators.”
The Guardian Group’s Impact Report, a nonprofit whose mission is to prevent and disrupt sex trafficking of women and children, found nationally 42% of victims reported their trafficker earned their trust within one month of meeting.
Walther said his department for big events will spend a lot of time combing through the internet.
“Buyers congregate electronically,” he said. “That’s where they do their business, online on the phone, in advertisements.”
The department stresses traffickers prey on vulnerable teens, such as runaways. Chief Walther urges parents to pay attention to their kid’s social media, even if they think it could never happen to their own.
“Most people I think sit back from the comfort of reading a news article or watching something on YouTube from the comfort of their own home and what they don’t appreciate is the level of psychological manipulation that goes on between a pimp and the person being trafficked,” Walther said.
As of now, 75% of the department’s patrol officers have been trained in partnership with the Safe Action project to recognize individuals who are being trafficked in the community.
Assistant Chief Joe LeDuc says the goal of the HEAT unit is not only to put an end to human trafficking but “to provide education and resources.”
LeDuc said the special unit in the last nine months has accomplished a lot.
“We’ve made 46 arrests, six formal regional operations, and we’ve also done other operations to try and help the victims,” he said, adding 28 of the arrests involved kids between the ages of 12 and 16.
The Guardian Group reported nationally that the average age of entry into the sex trade is 15 years old, with one-in-six being under the age of 12 years old. The Guardian also reported that 76% of victims under the age of 10 years old were trafficked by a family member, which is one of the most difficult forms of trafficking to detect.
LeDuc said the unit often doesn’t know how many people are rescued by a simple arrest.
“A lot of times when we arrest somebody we find that they’re already chatting with five to six other what would be real victims,” he said.