Officials in San Diego announced the first country-wide task force to fight human trafficking and assist victims Tuesday.
At a news conference at the Hall of Justice, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Domanis introduced The San Diego Violent Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, a task force that will partner with 14 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The task force will have more than two dozen investigators dedicated solely to making sure suspects are prosecuted to the fullest extent and to help the victims.
"It's time our entire community wake up on this particular issue and help law enforcement by recognizing the signs of human trafficking and reporting it,” said Dumanis.
While many of the agencies have been working to fight the increase in human trafficking on their own, the task force will unite them and dedicate officers specifically to tackling the issue.
“In many cases these law enforcement officers were going after the sex trafficking and sex trade on their own time," said San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
The city has been identified in the past by the FBI as one of several human trafficking hubs in California and the nation.
The news comes after a cross-country law enforcement crackdown in December targeted a sex-trafficking organization that involved about 100 young women and girls, many of whom were recruited from San Diego County middle and high schools.
About 50 percent of trafficking cases handled by the district attorney involve gangs, Dumanis said. Gangs lure teenagers into a life of prostitution, she said, as a part of their business now.
The number of human trafficking cases convicted and prosecuted in San Diego County has more than tripled over the past four years, Dumanis said.
According to the DA’s office, under the state’s sex trafficking statutes, a total of 40 human trafficking cases were prosecuted in San Diego in 2012 – a big jump from nine cases prosecuted by the DA’s office in 2009.
Dumanis said the task force needs the public’s help to report possible cases.
"And if you think it isn't happening in our neighborhoods in San Diego County, think again,” Dumanis said.
In addition to the district attorney's office, the San Diego County Supervisor, San Diego County Sheriff, San Diego Police Chief, FBI officials, ICE Homeland Security Investigations officials, ICE/Enforcement & Removal Operations officials, La Mesa police, California Highway Patrol Border officials and officials from the California Department of Justice will participate in the task force.