SAN DIEGO (KSWB) — Law enforcement in San Diego, California, rescued eight children and arrested 48 individuals as part of a human trafficking operation, officials announced Tuesday.
Since Jan. 9, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies said they completed 17 operations in the San Diego area as part of “Operation Better Pathways.” Members of the task force used video surveillance and undercover units to monitor neighborhoods and identify victims, as well as potential traffickers or buyers, law enforcement said in a press conference.
“There’s a focus on reducing demand, but really the focus is dealing with the traffickers – the people who are basically (enslaving) these women to go out there and perform sex acts for money – and then also trying to get these women onto better pathways,” San Diego Police Department Lt. Adam Sharki told Nexstar’s KSWB.
Law enforcement said 16 people being trafficked were rescued overall, including eight minors. The youngest of the children was 13 years old. She has since been reunited with her family, police said.
Two of the victims rescued were 16-year-old runaways from Arizona, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said during Tuesday’s briefing.
“Human trafficking operations can be viewed as an exploitation triangle with three parts: the trafficker, the victim and the buyer,” Nisleit said. “‘Operation Better Pathways’ highlighted the need for large-scale operations to combat human trafficking and the need to incorporate technology into the fight.”
Of the arrests made, nine were on suspicion of felony charges, San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan said.
The remainder of the arrests, Stephan said, were charges levied at those soliciting sex from the traffickers.
“This operation sent a clear message: If you come to our neighborhoods to buy sex, be prepared to leave in handcuffs,” said San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott.
In addition to the arrests of dozens, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said two guns were recovered during the operations, including an untraceable “ghost gun.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline provided by SDPD, more than 1,300 human trafficking cases were reported in California in 2021 — more than any other state in the nation.