Roseville PD continues focus on trafficking victims

The Roseville Police Department carried out a human trafficking detail at a local hotel April 9.

The aim of the Tuesday morning operation was to make contact with women being trafficked and to offer them resources to help them get out of the trade, while also arresting those who profit off it, police officials said.

The department recently began working with Source, a Minneapolis-based anti-trafficking nonprofit, which provides staffers to work alongside police during details. 

This month’s operation was the second time Roseville PD has worked with Source, providing trafficked women face-to-face contact with people whose mission is to provide them with support.

Officer Al Stefani, who did the months-worth of prep work for the trafficking detail, said the department’s goal is to “rescue these victims from human trafficking.”

Offering women help on the spot is a more effective means of doing something than giving them an advocate’s business card and hoping they turn around and give them a call, he said.

Police officials said law enforcement attitudes toward women caught up in human trafficking began changing with the passage of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law in 2011. 

As stated by the Minnesota Department of Health, the law “removed prostitution charges for youth under 18 and created a statewide system for helping sexually exploited youth by providing housing and services through age 24. This change reflected the reality that sex trafficked youth are victims.”

Patrol Lt. Joe Adams, who’s worked on a number of human trafficking cases, said the law opened a lot of eyes, and while adults can still be charged for prostitution, it shifted the focus from enforcement to help. MDH is pushing to broaden the state’s Safe Harbor law.

 

Out in the open

Though planning for the April 9 detail took months, from start to finish, said Detective Sgt. Jen Engh, the event itself lasted just five and a half hours.

Using software purchased for such details with cash from the Roseville Police Foundation, Engh said police personnel that morning contacted some 57 women using internet-based ads. Stefani noted the ads weren’t found on the “Dark Web” or through secretive means — “There are dozens of escort sites open to anyone.”

Of the 57 women who communicated with police, five agreed to meet at the local hotel. 

Police declined to identify at which of Roseville’s dozen-or-so hotels the detail took place, hoping to keep open the option of future operations at the business. They said trafficking happens at all the city’s places of lodging.

Once at the hotel, Engh said police made contact with the women, identifying themselves immediately. They ran the women’s names for warrants, and then put them in touch with folks from Source, one of whom is a trafficking survivor herself.

Stefani said relative to more publicized law enforcement anti-trafficking work carried out by multiple agencies during the recent NCAA basketball Final Four in Minneapolis, Roseville’s single-day effort netted similar results.

The detail included a single arrest, Engh said, of a man who’s facing charges of promoting prostitution. She said Roseville’s investigation of the man will continue for a couple of weeks before the case is turned over to the county attorney for charges.

 

‘How do you help?’

In support of the enforcement side of the police department’s efforts against human trafficking, Deputy Chief Erika Scheider said it’s helpful to have backing from the courts system.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi prioritizes working against human trafficking, and police officials said it’s energizing to know their cases will be prosecuted.

The system is far less effective when it comes to helping women get out of human trafficking.

“There’s no resources at all for adult [victims],” said Adams. 

Many of the women are homeless, yet there are few shelters that can take them in on short notice. Adams said the department found a shelter in Red Wing that could house some victims, and officers drove them down on their own time. Other women work in the sex trade to make money for basic necessities like food — officers have scrambled to find them a food shelf.

“Everyone wants to help,” Adams said, “but how do you help?”

Scheider said the police department has expanded its resources through partnerships with Source and the police foundation, along with the Roseville Visitors Association, Rotary and Grace Church.

The police foundation is holding an April 29 fundraiser that Choi will attend to raise cash to support the department’s anti-trafficking efforts. See the box on this page for more information.

“We can’t go out on our own and solve this problem,” Scheider said.

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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