Collaboration focuses on human trafficking in Tucson

Collaboration focuses on human trafficking in Tucson

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Federal grant money for the Tucson Police Department means officers are once again investigating sex and/or labor trafficking in the city.

Budget cuts forced TPD to disband the vice unit years ago, but more than $700,000 from a three-year federal grant will provide money and resources to once again make preventing prostitution and trafficking a priority.

Lt. Brian Parker, commander of TPD's street crimes section, said Thursday, Feb. 18 that officers have already made more than 100 arrests since the program started seven weeks ago.

However, the program is about more than arrests. Parker said it's just as important that the people arrested have a way out of their current lifestyle.

Only three people have shown an interest in receiving any sort of support services.

One person actually accepted them, but Parker said she left after a couple weeks.

"They don't know that we're being genuine, or maybe they just don't believe us when we're offering these services and providing an opportunity to maybe get out of that lifestyle," he said.

That's where agencies like Gospel Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army come in.

CODAC Health, Recovery and Wellness received a similar federal grant, according to Parker.

Myrna Garcia, director of forensic services, said sending her team members to the crime scene to meet with prostitutes is a new method for providing treatment.

"The opportunities are endless," she said. "This collaboration is awesome."

Gospel Rescue Mission is one of several organizations to set aside a room specifically for anyone that officers encounter in need of a safe place to escape human trafficking.

One former prostitute who depends on the nonprofit said she wore wigs and sunglasses for five years after leaving that lifestyle.

Wishing to remain anonymous, she said she wouldn't have trusted police officers offering help and support services after an arrest either in her day.

Forced to work against her will, she said that same fear is likely why no one has followed through with TPD so far.

"The repercussions that are going to come back to them could be worse," she said. "Could be death, could be being beaten. There are so many things that could happen to them."

Now that she's settled into Gospel Rescue Mission, she said she's hopeful more women still caught up in human trafficking will speak up before it's too late.

"You never really think that there's a place like this that can help," she said. "But there is and anybody should get help."

While the nonprofits help with support services, Parker said his team is focused on reducing demand.

He said officers are constantly checking online posts and pages in an effort to stop any encounters before they actually happen.

Grant money for the program is scheduled to last until September 2018, at which point potential patterns or fluctuations in human trafficking around Tucson will be more readily available.

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