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LAPD patch. Photo by MyNewsLA.com

The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council fully fund the Los Angeles Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Forces amid department budget cuts.

Human trafficking victims spoke to the board during Tuesday’s meeting about their harrowing experiences.

“Today I represent children who will become silenced, their dreams will seem impossible, and their life will become hopeless,” survivor Oree Freeman said.

“What was my normal (life) at 11 years old on the streets of L.A., born and raised in South Central … My normal, as well as the children’s normal tonight, will be rape seven to 15 times a night,” she said.

Freeman said the city has made important progress in its efforts against human trafficking.

“Today, I sit proudly saying that we have come so far,” she said, adding that the city shouldn’t now stop and go backward.

“We used to be unseen, now they are being rescued. We used to be misunderstood, now there is an understanding and true empathy. We used to be seen as prostitutes at 11, 12, 13 years old and locked up and sent to camp, but now we are seen as victims and respected as survivors,” Freeman said.

Dave Cox, chief operating officer for Zoe International, a nonprofit working to end child trafficking, told the commission during the meeting that “without dedicated law enforcement efforts, child trafficking will grow in our city.”

The board reviewed a report ordered by Council President Nury Martinez, which sought to evaluate the impact that budget cuts will have on human trafficking task forces at the LAPD’s Operations-South Bureau and Operations-Valley Bureau, which were created in January 2014 “to hinder gang involvement in human trafficking and thwart prostitution related-crimes.”

Martinez pointed out in her motion that trafficking is “particularly problematic” in those areas.

“Given that these organizations work hand in hand with law enforcement to provide the support needed for victims, it is important to ensure these operations could continue to properly function throughout the pandemic and after,” Martinez said in the motion.

In the previous four fiscal years, the LAPD had between $1 million and $1.5 million earmarked for three bureaus’ Human Trafficking Task Forces. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, budgetary reductions to the overtime account stopped human trafficking operations outside of regular duty hours, according the report.

“The reduction in funds has resulted in less operations and opportunities to rescue and help vulnerable human trafficking victims,” the report said.

From July 1 to Oct. 31, 2020, the Valley Bureau task force made 124 trafficking arrests, a 40% reduction from the same period in 2020, when there were 205 arrests. The South Bureau made 106 arrests in that period, a 15% reduction compared to the same period in 2019, when there were 125 arrests.

Rescues also fell, with only one trafficking rescue during that period by the Valley Bureau in 2020, compared to two in 2019. The South Bureau made 18 rescues in that period of 2019 but only 10 in the same period in 2020.

The reduction was also caused by hiring and promotional moratoriums, the report stated.

A supervisor at the Valley Bureau task force said it takes many hours of work for officers to rescue a victim.

“It takes multiple contacts for them to actually build trust to provide little bits of information at a time,” she said. “It takes hours of sitting, waiting, watching to make sure that we have the right person attached to our victim.”

Freeman said that in her rescue, it took several arrests by the same officer for her to build trust.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that despite budget cuts, the department will work to rescue victims.

“I recognize that this report demonstrates some of the realities of this fiscal crisis that we’re in, hard choices that this department and this city has to make … while we may not have the velocity of added funding or added areas, we will remain committed.”

Moore said the department will work to minimize the impacts by utilizing and rearranging its resources.

The commissioners voted to accept the report and send it to the Public Safety Committee, which was scheduled on the meeting’s agenda, but they also voted to recommend that the City Council fully fund the task forces without cutting other portions of the department.

“I, for one, want to leave here not simply telling City Council that we reviewed this report and are passing it along. I, for one, want to recommend to City Council that we fully fund this task force so they can go about the work of rescuing the victims,” said Commissioner William Briggs, who introduced the idea of recommending that the task forces be funded.

“I don’t want to simply rubber stamp a report that does nothing, I want to create a plan that helps our city,” he said. “I don’t want this to happen in our city.”

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