LOS ANGELES – Investigators committed to cracking down on sexual predators are using cyber-based “patrols” to catch suspects, according to a report presented to the Board of Supervisors by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
Working in partnership with Demand Abolition, a nonprofit organization focused on eradicating the demand for commercial sex, sheriff’s deputies post ads to make contact with would-be buyers.
Once phone contact is made, detectives identify themselves as members of the sheriff’s Human Trafficking Bureau, advise the caller that solicitation is a crime and offer referrals to sex addiction treatment.
Investigators also use electronic “bots” to send text messages to buyers to let them know their activity is illegal, exploitive and no longer anonymous.
During the first month of operations this year, nearly 1,900 conversations took place with potential sex buyers which prompted more than 30,000 text warnings designed to disrupt their behavior.
The information on cyber solutions was part of a quarterly update from DCFS Director Bobby Cagle to the Board of Supervisors on the battle against child sex trafficking.
In addition to recapping hundreds of January arrests of suspected traffickers and “johns” in a three-day statewide round-up led by the Sheriff’s Department and dubbed “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild,” the letter to the board noted success in “recovering” hundreds of youths from the street and getting them access to services, including jobs and job training.
The county’s first responder protocol — which identifies sexually exploited minors as victims who should be offered help, not arrested — was instituted in August 2014. Since then, 408 “recoveries” have been made.
Training continues for employees in various county departments that interact with children, foster youth and young adults, to help them identify potential victims and learn strategies for intervention.
A roll-out of the first responder protocol was planned for last August, but has been delayed because of jurisdictional issues related to where to house runaways whose homes are outside of Los Angeles County. The decision has since been made that DCFS will temporarily care for everyone other than youths subject to delinquency warrants, who will be temporarily placed in juvenile hall. The roll-out is set to begin this month and is planned to be phased over six months.
No new action was taken by the board.