The Los Angeles Police Department held a Town Hall meeting on April 21 titled “Human Trafficking and Internet Crimes Against Children.”
The town hall, held on April 21 at the John C. Argue Swim Stadium in Exposition Park, was attended by nearly 300 gang interventionists, local pastors, community leaders and youth workers. It is the first of six meetings to be held as part of the LAPD’s series “Off-Ramps,” breaking the cycle of violence in the community.
Gun and gang violence, child sex trafficking, and Internet crimes against children continue to be growing concerns for the LAPD, which is actively “reaching out” to the community in order to help “spread the word” and to seek solutions regarding the problems.
“In the past 15 years, 507,000 people have been impacted by crime in this community,” observed LAPD Deputy William Scott. “These numbers are real. Everyone here has known somebody who has been impacted by violent crime. That number of crime victims could fill up the Los Angeles Coliseum six times.”
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson praised LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck and the South Bureau for their untiring work in fighting crime in the community. “We’re grateful to the folks that put on a uniform everyday and put their bodies on the line.”
“I love this neighborhood. The LAPD South Bureau is my home,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck who also attended the town hall.
“This series is really important, and we need to widen that net so that the community can help the LAPD with the mission of reducing violence,” Beck continued. “We need good communication between the community and the police so that we can provide those ‘off ramps’ away from violence.”
Beck praised the gang interventionist groups and summer programs like Summer Night Lights that help to keep youths out of trouble.
“Intervention is so important and it is a key part of our strategy,” said Beck. “We need good cops and good targeted enforcement, but we’ve also got to keep kids away from gangs. We as a community have the ability to affect the cycle of violence.”
Beck said that the community needs to “band and work together” to raise the children. “We want schools where kids don’t have to worry about what color shoelaces they wear. We want a safe city, a city where we can raise our families, know our neighbors and know the police. I need you, your neighbors and their neighbors as well as your schools, libraries, parents and businesses to say violence is not the answer.”
Gun violence is another prevailing topic that continues to plague the community.
“The 77th LAPD Southwest Division has the most gun violence in the district,” LAPD Commander Phillip C. Tingirides pointed out. “We have partnered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to try to rid the community of guns. Last month we took 60 guns off the street in two weeks, “ said Tingirides, who added that gang members often like to “show off” their guns on the Internet. When you have as much violence as we have (n this community), you have to focus on getting rid of the guns.”
“Guns don’t come from some other country,” said Beck, who added that there were 283 murders involving guns in Los Angeles so far this year. “There are only 12 gun stores in the entire community of Los Angeles. We still have way too many guns on the street and most of them come from our homes.”
Sex trafficking was the next topic discussed, and retired LAPD Reserve Officer Andre Dawson said that “Children are recruited from school campuses, group and foster homes and that many pimps are targeting children with learning disabilities.
“Within 48 to 72 hours of running away or being reported missing, one in three children will be lured into commercial sexual exploitation,” Dawson said. “The Department of Justice reports that 12 is the average age at which victims are forced into commercial sex.”
LAPD Lieutenant Andrea Grossman of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force showed a video titled “Modern Day Slavery” which depicted several girls who were coerced into sex trafficking. The video showed that the pimp “brands” his “property” by forcing girls to get tattoos proclaiming his name. The pimp uses violence to “control” the girls. One photo showed where a pimp had torn the hair out a girl’s scalp because she had failed to make her ‘’quota” (certain amount of money per night).
The video also showed a flyer confiscated by police where a pimp offered free housing, cigarettes and food as well as an offer to pay for an unsuspecting girl’s nails and hair.
“Nails and hair are a very important enticement,” said Grossman. Girls who answered the ad were then “recruited” into sex trafficking.
Police indicated that Internet crimes against children are another growing problem.
“Parents need to know what’s on their child’s phone,” warned Grossman. “They need to know what apps their children are using like Kik Messenger which is often used for sexting and sending nude photos by predators who are using cell phones to contact unsuspecting children.”
Grossman added that child sex predators often trade ‘files’ that depict the sexual abuse of children and that it is a widespread, international problem. “This week we obtained warrants for four predators who went to jail,” said Grossman, who said that child sex trafficking cases had grown from 300,000 in 2010 to 1,200,000 in 2014.
She added that the task force is available to speak at local churches and schools and urged attendees to call 1-800-THE-LOST if they suspect child trafficking is occurring in their neighborhoods.
“The pimp is all about money,” said LAPD Sergeant Brian Gallagher of the Operations South Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force. “We want you to start a discussion to bring this situation to light. It’s amazing that in 2016, we are still dealing with modern day slavery.”
Attendees were urged to report any type of crime to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
“Tell 10 people about this number,” said Scott. “We live in a community where we are afraid of what we see, particularly when it comes to gang violence, but you can remain anonymous and report crimes to the police without giving your name.”