More than 170 people were arrested on charges ranging from soliciting a prostitute to human trafficking of a minor as part of a two year operation, the Tallahassee Police Department announced Tuesday.
“This investigation is a testament to how diligent our investigators work to enhance the quality of life for everyone in this community, especially our vulnerable population,” Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell said in an official statement Tuesday. “They worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victim in this case and were able to make an unprecedented number of human trafficking related arrests.”
“I could not be prouder of the steadfast efforts of our investigators and the joint effort with our partners to stop the illegal and dehumanizing practice of human trafficking,” Revell continued.
The massive bust was part of operation “Stolen Innocence” which began in November 2018 after Tallahassee Police Department investigators saw pictures of a minor girl circulating on a website advertising sex for money, according to the police report. The department’s Special Victims Unit then set up an operation to rescue the child safely, allowing investigators to uncover swaths of evidence that helped investigators make the arrests, according to the report.
— Emma Wheeler (@EWheeler_WCTV) November 17, 2020
As a result of the investigation, 72 suspects were charged with misdemeanors and notices to appear, 106 were charged with felonies and 18 face federal charges, according to Tallahassee Police. (RELATED: DHS Opens Center To Combat Human Trafficking)
“It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of these criminals who prey on the most innocent in our society,” Kevin Sibley, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tampa Acting Special Agent in Charge said in a statement. “Thanks to the collective efforts of the Tallahassee Police Department and HSI special agents, our local communities are significantly safer today as a result of this investigation.”
Tallahassee Police said common signs of human trafficking include persons who appear malnourished, avoid eye contact, or show signs of physical abuse.
Florida is among the top 5 states where human trafficking takes place, according to WPBF, an ABC affiliate. In 2017, Orlando ranked third in the U.S. for the number of reports made to the national human-trafficking hotline, according to the Orlando Sentinel.