During a month-long operation around the World Games in Birmingham, dozens of people were arrested, several victims of human trafficking were identified and assisted and seven missing children were recovered.
Homeland Security investigators conducted the extensive operation as part of the World Games Human Exploitation Task Force, authorities said Monday.
The action, dubbed “Operation Games STOP,” targeted crimes related to human exploitation, drug trafficking and other threats to public safety in the run-up to the World Games, which began July 7 and ended Sunday.
The operation, which began June 23, is Alabama’s largest and most focused effort to attack human exploitation.
The initiative involved training more than 80 hotels in the Birmingham area on the signs of human trafficking, as well as 3,500 volunteers and even athletes.
“Major sporting events like this routinely attract transnational criminal organizations and other bad actors involved in illegal criminal activities such as crimes of human exploitation, drug trafficking and the sale of counterfeit goods,” said Special Representative Katrina W. Berger, who guides the HSI -Operations overseen in Georgia and Alabama.
The operation resulted in:
• 34 arrests of commercial sex buyers
• Six arrests on human trafficking charges
• Eight adult men arrested for soliciting a minor online and traveling to meet a minor for sex
• 15 adult victims of sex trafficking identified and services provided
• Four child trafficking victims identified and provided services
• Two child victims of sex trafficking were identified and rendered services
• 11 child victims of online sexual exploitation and sextortion identified
• Seven adult trafficking victims were identified and rendered services
• Seven missing and vulnerable minors were located, recovered and cared for
• Nine arrests for drug-related offences
• An arrest of a Michigan fugitive on charges of posing as a police officer
• Over a dozen outstanding state and local arrest warrants for persons encountered, including one for attempted murder
• Nine firearms confiscated
• Executed more than 20 search warrants
• Seizure of counterfeit goods valued at more than US$30,000
Several agencies participated in Operation Games STOP: the Alabama Fusion Center, the Birmingham Police Department, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, the Fultondale Police Department, the Bessemer Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, the McLennan County Texas Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville, Ala. Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Hoover Police Department, Oxford Police Department, East Metro Area Crime Center (EMACC), Homewood Police Department, Vestavia Hills Police Department, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office, the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the Northport Police Department, the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, and the FBI.
Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said they assembled a good team and started proactive investigations.
“We had a lot of extra help in the intelligence community,” he said. “We knew we would see an increase early on.”
“There was an increase in chatter on certain sites about being able to find children for sex, and we were able to use that to our advantage,” Gilmer said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the DHS Center to Combat Human Trafficking also provided on-site staff to the World Games and have provided enhanced skills and resources to these investigations while protecting both adults and minors from exploitation.
In addition, the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators, FREE International, Blanket Fort Hope, and G6 Hospitality LLC provided operations, public relations, and training support.
The Junior League of Birmingham provided human trafficking signs throughout the Birmingham area and throughout Alabama, sponsored training, and provided food, water, and other essentials to staff who worked long hours during the Games.
Victim services have been offered to victims of human trafficking by Worthy2, Hope Filled Rooms, Trafficking Hope, The WellHouse and HSI’s own Victim Assistance Program.
HSI prioritizes crimes of victimization and investigates and arrests those who exploit children or engage in human trafficking. According to authorities, identifying, rescuing and stabilizing victims is just as important as investigating and prosecuting human trafficking.
HSI works with victim service providers and community-based organizations to provide resources and trauma-informed support services to victims.
Of paramount importance to this mission, officials said, is educating the public and key industries in Birmingham – such as hospitality, hotels and transport – on how to spot the indicators of human trafficking in their communities and help dispel the myths of who Can become a victim of this heinous crime.
“It was a great team effort by everyone involved,” said Gilmer. “The results speak for themselves.”