TALLAHASSEE, Fla — More than 170 people have been charged in a "large-scale" human trafficking investigation in Florida, according to the Tallahassee Police Department.
Law enforcement officers made the announcement Tuesday, saying investigators in Tallahassee have finished a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Stolen Innocence." Police say charges range from solicitation of prostitution to human trafficking of a minor.
“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. 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,” Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell said.
“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 added.
Tallahassee police say the investigation began in November 2018 when investigators saw photos of a child posted on a website that advertises sex for money. Investigators with the TPD's Special Victims Unit set up Operation Stolen Innocence to rescue the child and bring her to safety.
Investigators uncovered an "enormous" amount of electronic evidence, which results in 72 people charged with misdemeanors and notices to appear, 106 people getting charged with felonies and 18 face federal charges.
“It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of these criminals who prey on the most innocent in our society,” said Kevin Sibley, Homeland Security Investigations Tampa Acting Special Agent in Charge. “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.”
Police say an estimated 199,000 human trafficking incidents happen every year in the U.S., and Florida ranks in the top five states with the most cases reported.
The Tallahassee Police Department offered tips to stay vigilant. Officers say the following are some of the most common ways to recognize a person potentially victimized by human trafficking:
- The person appears malnourished.
- They show signs of physical injuries or abuse.
- They avoid eye contact, social interaction and law enforcement.
- They do not have official identification or personal possessions.
- They are never away from people.
If you see something, police ask that you report it to your local authorities or Crime Stoppers. You can utilize the statewide Crime Stoppers tipline **TIPS.