Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force
The Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Taskforce was created from grant money provided by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). For example, in January 2020, DOJ distributed a grant of more than $700,000 to the St. Petersburg Police Department. Other local law enforcement agencies received similar grants.
According to the Sheriff of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Chad Chronister, since the formation of the Human Trafficking Squad in June of 2021, the deputies have made more than 360 arrests. In fact, on August 25, 2022, the sheriff announced the results of a recent sting operation that led to the arrest of more than 170 people in connection with prostitution.
Critics contend that nearly all the grant money benefits law enforcement agencies by creating additional jobs, while very little of the funds are provided to the victims of sex crimes.
A large portion of the grant money is used by undercover officers in elaborate sting operations targeting misdemeanors such as soliciting a prostitute or offering to commit prostitution. The sting operations primarily target the most novice user of prostitution between consenting adults.
Few of the sting operations are targeted at those who commit crimes against children because those crimes tend to be harder to detect and require more sophisticated investigation techniques. Human traffickers know how to avoid these types of undercover sting operations.
The task force reported that between January 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021, it was involved in more than 120 arrests. Very little information was provided on what services were provided to victims or who was paid to provide those services.
In fact, one goal of the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force is to increase the number of people arrested for solicitation, prostitution, and other types of sex crimes.
According to the task force, the term “human trafficking” is defined as “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploiting that person for either commercial sex activity or labor or services.”
The task force provides “victim-centered, trauma-informed services.”
This task force for human trafficking partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and organizations that provide services related to human trafficking and prostitution, including:
- Local police departments in Bradenton, Clearwater, Dade City, Haines City, Largo, Palmetto, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Temple Terrace, Tampa, Wauchula, and Zephyrhills;
- Local sheriffs’ offices in Hernando County, Hillsborough County, Manatee County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, and Polk County;
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement (“FDLE “)
- Florida Office of the Attorney General – Statewide Prosecutor’s Office (“Statewide Prosecutor “)
- United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida (“USAO”)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”)
- United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) (the Tampa, Orlando, and Sarasota field offices)
The human trafficking task force created an app through tip411 that allows anyone to communicate anonymously and in real-time with Task Force investigators. Many of the tips come from other law enforcement officers.
The app is available for free on iTunes and Google Play stores. Tips can also be provided by texting the keyword HTTF to tip411 (or 847411), adding a space, typing in their tip information, and hitting send.
On March 9, 2022, the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force announced the results of a multi-agency undercover operation that resulted in 13 people being arrested for the following: six charges of human trafficking, five charges of offering to commit prostitution or soliciting prostitution, and two charges of traveling to meet a minor for sexual activity.
Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force – Visit the website of the St. Petersburg Police Department to learn more about how it spends federal grant money on sting operations and its efforts to participate in the task force. Find information on how the Human Exploitation and Trafficking (“HEAT”) Unit investigates human trafficking cases in St. Petersburg.
Human Trafficking – Visit the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, a member of the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force, to find out more about how federal prosecutors investigate sex crimes and human trafficking allegations including sex trafficking of adults by force, fraud, or coercion, transnational sex trafficking, trafficking of minor children, and forced labor. The article also provides information on how to conduct the Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates hotline to report incidents of trafficking humans for exploitation.
This article was last updated on Tuesday, July 26, 2022.