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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

FBI Releases Post-Super Bowl Trafficking Stats, But Says It Doesn’t Track the Number of Prostitutes Arrested

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 12:28 PM

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As SF Weekly reported a couple of weeks ago, the Bay Area’s anti-human trafficking operations during the Super Bowl were no joke. More than 50 organizations, an army of 5,000 trained volunteers, and a who’s who of federal law enforcement agencies — including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security — descended on six area counties to rescue trafficked women and arrest their alleged pimps, some of whom had supposedly crossed state lines to work the big game.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, there was a round of press conferences and bluster from City Hall and the SFPD about cracking down on traffickers. An anti-trafficking ad campaign plastered bus shelters and public transit. Hotel workers were trained, like watchdogs, to recognize pimps and sic the cops on them. Trafficking specialists breezed into town from points north and exhorted their Christian cohorts to help the victims.

It was a sprawling effort, but did it make a difference?

Yes, says the FBI.

This week, the agency reported the results of its coordinated crackdown: 12 pimps arrested; contact made with 129 prostitutes; and 85 johns busted for soliciting sex. The FBI’s tally is from the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, with six Bay Area counties reporting: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Marin, Santa Clara, and San Francisco.

“It was definitely a success,” says FBI spokeswoman Michele Ernst. So much so that the FBI plans to replicate the maneuver at other high-profile events and as part of Operation Cross Country, an annual, nationwide anti-trafficking sting.

What made the FBI’s operation effective, according to Ernst, was that the agency centralized data from its 30-plus “law enforcement partners” throughout the Bay Area. A command post was set up in Oakland, from which the FBI received real-time tips and information about suspected traffickers.

The agency did a trial run of this central command last fall, according to Ernst.

“Victim-centric” approach was a tagline that echoed through all of the city’s press conferences last month. But the nomenclature of “victim” versus “prostitute”gets statistically tricky. Ernest tells SF Weekly that some of the 129 prostitutes detained during the Super Bowl operation were arrested, while others received counseling and were offered “help to get out of the life.”

Those arrested were determined to have been involved in trafficking, although Ernst couldn’t specify how since, according to her, the FBI doesn’t record how many prostitutes were arrested — only the number that were “contacted.”

“I know it’s confusing,” Ernst says. “It gets hairy to classify though. We don’t break the numbers down into who was arrested and who wasn’t because we want to be conservative. We don’t want to inflate numbers.”

Nor can she say much about the “special tools” the FBI used to track down johns, although she notes they included old-fashioned tactics such as hotel raids.

“We definitely forsee this same operation being used in the future,” Ernst says, adding, “Trafficking is a problem year-round, not just during the Super Bowl.”

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Jeremy Lybarger

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