City Council policy session focuses on updates in the city’s human trafficking task force

(Nicole Neri/DD)

Mayor Kate Gallego and the Phoenix City Council discussed the progress of its human trafficking task force during a policy and work-study session Wednesday.

The City of Phoenix Human Trafficking Task Force, founded in 2013 by former Mayor Greg Stanton, was the beginning of a new era for Phoenix.

The four components of the Task Force’s Compass plan are community awareness and outreach, training, law enforcement and victim services.

To help boost community awareness, the Task Force utilizes press conferences, public service announcements, education materials and participation in the “Not Worth It” anti-prostitution campaign. To highlight National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, every January City Hall is lit blue and posters are hung on garbage trucks and in the bathroom stalls of Sky Harbor Airport.

To discuss what has been done in victim services over the past five years, the City Council showcased the city’s increased funding, drop-in centers for trafficking survivors and Starfish Place, a housing community designed with the help of Arizona State University to help assist victims of human trafficking.

Cindy McCain, the widow of late Senator John McCain, was also present at the session. McCain is the chair of the board of trustees at ASU’s McCain Institute and is a chair on the Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.

“We have reduced the rate of minor victims from over 90% to less than 8%,” McCain said. “Over the past five years, we have trained over 38,000 people in Arizona to recognize the signs of human trafficking.”

In order to train people in Arizona, the Task Force utilizes programs to educate Arizonans on the issue.

Task Force members facilitated a program called Operation Blue Wave that helps local police officers recognize signs of human trafficking. More training includes Safeguarding Adolescents From Exploitation Action Project and the Sex Trafficking Awareness For Individual Strength and Hope School Prevention Project curriculum, which is used in classroom presentations to raise student awareness.

In December 2017, the Phoenix Police Department’s Human Exploitation & Trafficking Unit conducted a 10-day undercover operation called “Operation Paradise Heat.”

“During this time, we had 86 men arrested for soliciting prostitution,” said Commander Jim Gallagher of the Phoenix Police Department. “From 2017 on, our HEAT Unit has authored 2,298 reports documenting human sex trafficking investigations, and during that time we have arrested 714 people.”

Later on, during the City Council’s work-study, Gallego and the council discussed how to handle Phoenix’s high car crash rates. The City of Phoenix currently operates more than 1,150 signalized intersections. According to Phoenix.gov, these intersections averaged 1,520 red light running crashes and 88 serious or fatal injuries each year.

“We used to have a very robust traffic enforcement program in the City of Phoenix,” Councilwoman Debra Stark said. “We have the reputation of being the deadliest city when it comes to red light running.”

The councilmembers proposed a composite scoring methodology: a numerical, graph-based formula in which each intersection in the city would receive a score based on how many crashes it had.
The resulting scores would be used to determine which intersections will receive photo enforcement cameras for red light running.

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