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Human Trafficking - Statement of Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell during Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing


Human Trafficking - Statement of Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell during Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing

I appreciate the leadership of your Committee on the important issue of human trafficking and am submitting these remarks at the request of Senator Feinstein, in connection with the committee hearing to be held on February 24, 2015. Please do not hesitate to contact me if the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department can be of assistance in any way as your work continues.

For over three decades it has been my privilege to serve in law enforcement, protecting the residents of Los Angeles County -- at the Los Angeles Police Department, as Chief of the Long Beach Police Department and now as the new Sheriff of a County with over 10 million people.

Over these many years in policing, I have lived through the 1980s peak of gang violence and homicides, as well as the more recent historic crime lows. Political and law enforcement leaders have rightly taken some credit for how far we have come. Better policing, improved training and funding, and stronger community ties have all played a role in crime reduction. However, we must not allow our satisfaction with declining violent crime statistics to cause us to become complacent or to ignore serious crimes that may be flying below our radar.

It is my sense that today's street gangs have become more sophisticated about how they make their money. While they may be committing fewer murders or narcotics-related violent crimes, gangs have moved into human trafficking in a major way. Rather than sell narcotics, today's gang member has learned that he can run a "stable" of women to make money for him day after day, while taking very few risks himself. While some may believe that the individuals being sold are working by choice, we now know that many are victims or runaways, often as young as twelve years old. Most of the girls and boys working our streets are neither entrepreneurs nor criminals; they are victims of a modern day slavery.

Therefore, from a law enforcement perspective, I appreciate and support efforts by Congress, the Administration, and this Committee to strengthen the ability of law enforcement to crack down on all forms of trafficking and particularly the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

These issues are of particular concern to California. As Senator Feinstein is well aware, of the nation's 13 High Intensity Child Prostitution areas identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), three of these Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco are in our state.

I support the approach in pending legislation to amend the criminal code to strengthen the prosecution of those who are engaged in buying or selling individuals to be trafficked. It is vitally important that law enforcement have adequate tools and be able to work effectively with both federal and state prosecutorial offices to pursue those who make a living out of child sex trafficking. We must also have the tools to impact the demand side and deter individuals considering the purchase of young trafficked victims.

We need to enhance the ability of anti-trafficking task forces throughout the country to effectively target the demand that fuels the sex trafficking market and also help promote training of law enforcement officers and others in critically important areas including identifying victims and acts of child human trafficking and addressing the unique needs of child victims of human trafficking. Finally, all parts of the system must work together to provide justice for the victims of trafficking through much needed services and support (including increased compensation and restitution).

I know of at least two bills before this Committee that are in line with these approaches: Senator Feinstein's Combat Human Trafficking Act (S. 140) and Senator Cornyn's Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178). I support these bills and hope that consideration of these measures will move forward.

For the larger counties such as Los Angeles, child sex trafficking is a problem that is not going away. In Los Angeles, our County departments and law enforcement agencies are endeavoring to work together to respond to the growing problem of trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. We are crafting new approaches that better address the unique challenges these offenses pose.

One of our primary areas of focus has been on rehabilitating rather than punishing and detaining CSEC victims. We are helping sexually exploited children through a multi-agency team approach in a specialized juvenile court called the "STAR" Court (Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience) that avoids the typically adversarial nature of delinquency proceedings. County staff work to quickly move victims out of the juvenile justice system and coordinate with providers to offer needed services as well as increasing awareness and the identification of CSEC victims. Initiatives such as the STAR court have been funded through two grants awarded to the County's Juvenile Court and Probation Department by the State of California from its Federal Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Grant allocation. Yet this is only a single court that impacts a limited number of young trafficking victims.

What is really needed at the local level is enhanced funding. Several pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act enacted in 2013, authorized grants for local initiatives to combat trafficking. But funds are seldom appropriated for this purpose.

For example, in Fiscal Year 2015, Congress tripled the appropriation of Department of Justice (DOJ) funding for trafficking victim services programs from $14.25 million to $42.25 million, but there is currently no assurance that DOJ will provide any of this funding to local governments. At a minimum, we would request that DOJ set aside at least $8 million of this funding for grants for local government initiatives that could be used to support more specialized courts such as the one in Los Angeles or for victim services provided by law enforcement, child welfare, or probation agencies. Funding could also be used to establish a Sex Trafficking Block Grant as authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended.

There are a host of other areas where support for new strategies and approaches could help address and more effectively combat these horrific crimes. Those include:

Support for local, regional and state partnerships to better address and dismantle criminal enterprises that cross jurisdictional lines;

Enhanced law enforcement training and awareness of these issues and better strategies for how to deal with the young victims; and

Proactive communications efforts that recognize the trafficked young people as victims and strongly discourage use of the "prostitution" label.

I also want to acknowledge the child welfare component of this issue. While reliable statistics are not readily available, studies have confirmed that children in the child welfare or foster care system are much more susceptible to being forced into the sex trafficking trade, which makes the need for new thinking, collaborative approaches and enhanced local funding even more acute.

A final area in which we need assistance is with the entertainment industry, which too often glamorizes in TV, film, music and video games the pimp lifestyle -- a lifestyle which is, by definition, the exploitation of women and young girls. As the Sheriff representing a County that includes the hub of the music and film industry, I intend to make changing this paradigm a priority. I welcome your help in this effort.

My thanks for your consideration of my views in regard to this vitally important area. I appreciate your ongoing commitment to improving public safety and enhancing the tools law enforcement has available in regard to this emerging criminal arena.

Captain Gary Honings

West Hollywood Sheriff's Station

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

780 N San Vicente Boulevard

West Hollywood, CA 90069

(310) 855-8850





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West Hollywood Sheriff's Station polices the City of West Hollywood and the unincorporated communities of Franklin Canyon, Universal City (which includes Universal Theme Park, Studios, and Citywalk), and the Federal Enclave in West Los Angeles.

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Jim McDonnell, Sheriff

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

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