Sex trafficking division expands

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Washington County

A grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety will expand the ability of Washington County law enforcement to fight sex trafficking.

The Washington County Attorney's Office will use the $184,000 grant to hire a program coordinator to work in its major crimes division beginning sometime next year. The new hire will train police, prosecutors and social workers in the detection and apprehension of pimps and predators as well as the rescue of their victims.

"We hope the program coordinator position will aid the detectives into not only training in human trafficking investigations but also providing technical assistance," Assistant County Attorney Imran Ali said.

Ali heads the major crimes division, which was founded last year to pursue and prosecute organized crime operations, such as illegal drug distribution networks and theft and fraud rings. But sex trafficking cases quickly became the priority, he said.

"Just in the last year we have been inundated and our office has charged multiple individuals for sex trafficking and even labor trafficking," Ali said. "I think all of us, from the community to law enforcement on down to our office, we didn't anticipate it being that much of a widespread problem in Washington County."

They have expanded their staff to include two law clerks and a criminal analyst who monitors online sites such as Craigslist and Backpage, where traffickers and predators often place ads to buy or sell sex.