Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308
Thursday, May 10, 2018 at Midnight
Spokane police arrested 14 men and towed their vehicles during a recent sting operation designed to disrupt human trafficking.
On three different nights, members of the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force used decoys or surveillance to catch men patronizing prostitutes.
The ongoing effort is designed to keep “johns” guessing about who’s a prostitute and who’s an undercover officer.
“And therefore, drive down the demand by increasing the risk to people going out there, that it actually might be a police operation,” explained Captain Brad Arleth of the Spokane Police Department.
On a recent Thursday night, Sergeant Kip Hollenbeck, the supervisor of the SPD’s Human Trafficking Unit, explained how the sting operations was unfolding.
“Right now our teams are just kind of setting up in the area. We’re trying to locate the girls. You watch for, naturally, the clothing but also, they’ll have eye contact with you as you drive by. That’s generally, a girl,” Hollenbeck said.
Undercover officers spot a woman in a tan dress hop inside an idling pickup truck at the corner of Madelia and Sprague.
“So what’s happening now is a john just picked up a girl and our follow units are watching. They are trying to get them going to their spot where they’re going to stop,” said Hollenbeck as he began to tail the couple.
In 2015, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance allowing police to tow the cars of anyone picking up prostitutes on Sprague Avenue from Fiske to Hamilton Street.
On this night, police made two arrests and towed a pair of cars. The johns have to pay a $500 fine not to mention impound fees.
“We’re trying to blunt the demand by targeting johns and people who are engaged in purchasing the traffic victims,” Arleth said of the costly patronizing- a- prostitute citations.
Pimps demand their prostitutes earn up to a thousand dollars a night. So if police can scare away their customers, it makes human trafficking a less attractive criminal enterprise.
“Our other interest is in building neighborhood efficacy. We have businesses out there that are flourishing. We have residents out there who deserve to have a good quality of life without finding needles and some of the other criminal activity that goes along with prostitution and human trafficking out there,” Arleth said of the East Sprague Neighborhood.
Police are also concerned about the women themselves.
“I’m fighting cancer and the bills are huge. I’ve been doing the heroin because, it’s for the pain,” said a woman named Linda.
The 51-year-old was caught in the middle of a sex act inside a john’s SUV in the industrial area just north of Sprague Avenue.
“I don’t like having to do this. But if I want to eat… my normal social security or disability hasn’t been coming in,” Linda lamented.
Police don’t arrest Linda, but Detective Harlan Harden does offer to connect her to services that could help Linda find a way out of the darkness and off Spokane streets.
Harden gives the woman his business card.
“If you call me tomorrow or send me a text at that number, and just say, ‘hey this is Linda from last night,’ I’ll have her give you a call and you guys can talk about what different resources are available,” Harden said of a social worker.
“They also work in partnership with outreach advocates from Lutheran Community Services who are doing the same thing. So that offer always stands, to be called, to come and get the victim into services that they need,” said Arleth.