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Law enforcement plans for sex trafficking issues around Super Bowl

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MINNEAPOLIS—A side effect of any big event like the Super Bowl is sex trafficking.

"We know that there's going to be a million-plus people coming into the Twin Cities," Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder recently told a Minneapolis City Council committee. "Unfortunately, some of those people, and it has nothing to do with the Super Bowl, are going to engage in the purchase, or attempt to purchase, commercial sex."

Law enforcement agencies and organizations that fight human trafficking plan an all-out effort to minimize commercial sex in the days before the Feb. 4 Super Bowl in downtown Minneapolis.

Snyder and other officials say lots of attention will be placed on websites that connect those who want to buy sex with those who want to sell it.

Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher said people going online to buy sex may be surprised to learn that they are dealing with law enforcement officers who are trying to nab "johns."

Officers have worked for years to prepare for the Minnesota Super Bowl. For the most part, they appear to expect less of a problem than years ago when the Super Bowl began to be linked with sex trafficking.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has worked to reduce Super Bowl-related trafficking over the years, said law enforcement officials "have gradually done more and more and more" to fight the issue.

"There has been a lot of training about what to spot," she said.

Knowing just what to expect is tough, Lauren Martin of the University of Minnesota said. "There is not a lot of research on this topic."

However, the information available does show an increase in sex trafficking during large events. Because it is "a market-driven activity," more online advertisements can be expected around the Super Bowl, Martin said.

Martin, who has examined the relatively few studies that have been published on the subject, said that Minnesota's sex trafficking activity likely will return to normal after the game, and not remain at a higher level.

There is evidence that people with extra "disposable income" tend to try to buy sex more often than poorer people, Martin said. Many who attend the Super Bowl have that extra money.

However, there is not a single type of person who buys sex, Martin added. "It is clear there are a wide variety of people involved in the commercial sex market."

Martin said she did not think new girls will be recruited for the Super Bowl. She said handlers probably will just bring them to Minnesota from elsewhere.

Law enforcement preparations go well behind sex trafficking.

As a top-level target for crime and terrorism, the Super Bowl has attracted a wide range of agencies, including the FBI.

"An event like this is about planning, about preparation, and about partnerships," said Rick Thornton, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis Division. "Each organization brings its unique abilities to the table, but it requires tremendous teamwork and cooperation to pull everything together into a unified whole."

Scott Gerlicher of the Minneapolis Police Department, the agency coordinating public safety work, said that agencies "have done our best to think of just about every contingency, natural or manmade."

Complicating the work has been that the home of the Super Bowl, U.S. Bank Stadium, is in Minneapolis.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the stadium is the most urban one in the National Football League. That, he said, makes it harder to secure than one in the suburbs with parking lots and empty land surrounding it.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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