Numerous children were among more than 80 other victims rescued in “Operation Red Zone” which also saw 500 suspects arrested across the state. The sting operation involved local, state, and federal law enforcement working in a coordinated effort that was made possible by policies put in place by former President Donald Trump and his Justice Department. News of the rescues and arrests was made Feb. 18.
The arrests included charges of human trafficking, pimping and pandering, solicitation for sex, and narcotics and sex with minors.
“We sent a message loud and clear that human trafficking will be met with swift action in Orange County,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “Through inter-department collaboration, we deployed substantial investigative resources across the county and were able to make a significant number of arrests. Most importantly two young victims have been brought to safety and resources were offered to other victims.”
The Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center coordinated the operation in partnership with 11 local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The agencies went undercover to investigate “online-based sex solicitation websites” and other “known problematic businesses” in order to catch the men, according to the sheriff’s department. Each agency utilized investigative techniques most impactful for their city.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer warned other human traffickers to stay out of Orange County.
“Proactive investigations like this allow law enforcement agencies to contact vulnerable victims of sex trafficking who might have otherwise never been able to escape their traffickers and receive valuable victim services that can help them heal and every arrest we make and every case we file serves as a message to human traffickers everywhere: don’t come to Orange County,” Spitzer said in a statement.
The victims were subsequently connected with Waymakers, a victim-assistance program that provides crisis intervention including shelter, transportation, and other necessities to human trafficking victims.
Participating in Operation Red Zone agencies included the police departments of Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Santa Ana, Westminster, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
State and local departments continue to enforce Trump-era policies even as the Biden administration has canceled many of them. In his first month in office, President Joe Biden canceled Operation Talon, a nationwide operation to remove illegal immigrants who are convicted sex offenders.
The Biden decision was roundly criticized by State Attorneys General who said the Trump policy had been effective in saving trafficked children.
–Dwight Widaman and wire services