April 2PAC meeting notes: Stop sex trafficking in Minneapolis

MPD Second Precinct PAC

April  11, 2016

Start: 6:10 PM, 25 attenders.

Minutes:  Approved.   Treasurer’s report: $1058.84

State of the Precinct: Inspector Waite

There is no outstanding pattern of burglaries in the Second Precinct.  The robberies are spread out throughout the precinct.  There has been a pattern of Spanish speaking community members being the victims, similar to the pattern in South Minneapolis.  Inspector Waite believes they may be targeted because suspects believe these community members carry a lot of cash, may have difficulty calling 911 or may be reluctant to contact the police.  Victims seem to be targeted and followed when they get off the bus, heading home after work.  These robberies are occurring during various times of the day.  Because reporting crime leads to increased squad surveillance, reporting is critical for preventing this crime.  Officers have been visiting businesses in the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, doing outreach.

Another example of the importance of calling 911 when something seems unusual: a person with Alzheimer’s wandered recently, but was found (outside the search area) because of a call from a resident who spotted the victim.  Without the call, the victim would likely have wandered much further, and not been found as quickly.

Sex Trafficking: Sgt. Grant Snyder

Our April speaker was Sergeant Grant Snyder of the MPD Criminal Investigation Division.  Sgt. Snyder has 16 years’ experience in the human trafficking unit of the MPD, and is the  lead investigator for the division.  Since 2011 his focus has been juvenile sexual exploitation.

Sgt. Snyder emphasized that juvenile victims of sex abuse are handled with a wide range of social services.  Most are fleeing from a “home” situation they feel  is worse than the unknown of life on their own.  They have no idea of how to support themselves.  Few trust police or other officials.  Above all, they are children.

Investigators must know several things about dealing with these victims:  1) Investigators are likely to only have one interview; 2) Investigators must always believe  the (12-18 year-old) victim is a victim, no matter how sophisticated she appears; she simply does NOT have the life experience to make a decision to start this life; 3) The victims will not play a role in sentencing and won’t have to face their abusers in court–the officer has to get it all in that one interview.  For that and other reasons, the investigator tries to make the victim’s experiences only a small part of the prosecution’s case.

The pertinent Minnesota statutes 609.322; Solicitation, inducement, and promotion of prostitution; sex trafficking and 609.324: Patrons; Prostitutes; Housing individuals engaged in Prostitution; penalties.  (Google: “MN statute 609.322”   and “MN statute 609.324″ without the quotation marks)  One thing he wants changed:  609.324 shows a sliding scale of punishment from 20 years and $40,000 (child under 13) down to much less if the victim is under 18, while buying sex with an adult gets a slap on the wrist. Sgt. Snyder  will be testifying to make the penalties equal across the board, including for people who buy adult sex.

How do we recognize them?  If you know what to look for, you will spot them.  Pimps can pick them out on the street.  One pimp said,  “It’s the one who feels ugly and isn’t part of the group, who won’t meet your eye.  You can see them.”

The pimp may offer a meal, a place to sleep.  He may act the role of big brother, friend, helper, boyfriend.  He will make sex a way to survive, a payment for the food and shelter, and a way  for the victim to make more money.

Sgt. Snyder commented that media portrayals are over the top, but still don’t represent the bulk of what’s out there.  Some pimps have such a strong hold that their victims won’t walk away from a motel room even if the pimp is two cities away.  Snyder has seen victims who actually have barcode tattoos or GPS chips under their skin for tracking purposes by the pimp/”Owner”.

To get more insight on how children are preyed on, Snyder suggested the book: Walking Prey – Holly Austin Smith (tiny url: http://tinyurl.com/jtcuvx4)   or just search the title on Amazon.com  Another place for information is sharedhope.org (4 out of 4 stars rating) which produced the UTube video “Do You Know Lacey?” to teach about sex trafficking of minors: why it happens, and what we can do to stop it.

Sgt. Snyder affirmed that the “demand side” is the more vulnerable side of the sex trade.  He sees a trajectory from porn to sex work, for victims and for buyers, since porn desensitizes both.  The buyers may have had additional  desensitizing in strip clubs.   Many of the buyers are middle class men with  good incomes and a comfortable life; that demographic is the same for people who buy either child or adult sex.  To March 31, there have been 80 buyer arrests by the MPD.

This points up the fact that trafficking is a money-motivated enterprise.  The pimps are businessmen who have found a system that works and makes money for them. Like other businessmen, they work to improve their methods, to increase their stock in trade, and to attract customers.

Trafficking cases are unique in police work.  Just one recent case yielded some 70,000 pages of documentation.  The work is involves multiple disciplines, technical proficiency and unusual levels of collaboration among local police, the FBI and Homeland Security.

Helping victims is complicated because the victims are complicated: probably uncooperative, distrusting, a challenge to work with, difficult to like, and in need a variety of social services.  This shell is something they developed in order to protect themselves, to survive.   It’s important to always remember that trafficking is caused by vulnerability.  We can’t “arrest” them out of the situation.

Despite public complaints, the majority of trafficking still comes from BackPage, which is where traffickers may attract their victims.  “Catfishing”, posting false information to influence people, is a prime tool.   A catfisher may post an ad asking for company, offering friendship, anything that works.   Facebook plays a role as well, since teens post too much information about themselves, tracking fights with parents, trouble at school, and other worries.  A pimp may pose as a sympathetic friend or potential boyfriend.  Sgt. Snyder tracked one exchange over several months that led to an exchange of suggestive photos, but the photo the victim sent was then used to blackmail her into coming to a motel room where four men raped the girl and filmed it–for better blackmail.

One man used nine fake identities to get girls–Snyder discovered that the “friends” introduced each other but never talked to each other. Technical forensics revealed that all the codes led back to the same man.

MPD receives as many as 12 referrals in a week, but there are only two investigators in the Dept.  Sgt. Snyder can handle  about 35 a year.  Most cases have an average of  6 victims, but some have many more.  He points out again that the cases are very complicated, require many levels of proficiency, and start with long hours with the first victim.  It may take 2 or 3 hours of talking before he feels he’s created a level of trust with one victim, and only then can he open the topic of the crimes.

Courtwatch: We voted to remove Ryan Joseph Orning who seems to be meeting his probation rules, and to remove Christopher Michael Perkins, who received a sentence of 74 months in prison.

We added Osman Amin (case 13-31460) who was arrested for drinking beer at a bus stop.  He has had 18 citywide arrests since 2013 including 3 in the 2nd PCT  since 2014.  Almost all have been alcohol related.

New Business:  – May 16 is Open House , that’s  the THIRD Monday of May.  Hours are 4-7PM plus clean up.  If you’ve contacted me, I’ve already sent your name to Sgt. Mota, but every public  event needs help picking up, during and after.  Inspector Waite insists that this year it will NOT rain!

Speakers upcoming:   June: Parks Policing; July: Traffic control (i.e. how to get a ticket); August: 311; Sept.: Regulatory Services; October: Fire safety; November: What to do before the EMTs arrive.  Some time in the future, we’ll look into how to recognize at-risk youth in danger of being drawn into ISIS and similar groups.

Next 2PAC meeting: June 13th at 6 pm.

Adjourn: 7:40 pm

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