It’s great to see local law enforcement agencies come together to tackle a worthy cause, and human trafficking is certainly a worthwhile one. The announcement Wednesday of the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Force, led by the St. Petersburg Police Department and supported by a $742,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, is an important step toward collaboration for the region. And it comes at a time and place where this is much-needed: Florida ranks third in the United States for human trafficking cases.
The task force will bridge the gap between at least 15 local law enforcement agencies and six counties, spanning as far as Hernando to Sarasota and east toward Polk County. St. Petersburg police will be able to draw on their experience since starting a special unit targeting trafficking in 2018. That unit has led to 23 investigations, more than twice the total undertaken in the four years prior. The task force will also partner with nonprofit Selah Freedom to provide short-term beds in Tampa Bay for victims who may need therapy, services and any other treatment.
There is real demand for this type of work in Florida. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received about 770 reports of potential trafficking in the state. St. Petersburg police chief Tony Holloway has the right idea by targeting the cause of the problem, not the symptom, by looking for the traffickers themselves. “We’re looking for the people who say, ‘Hey, you want a 13-year-old girl?’”
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