Hennepin County's effort to combat human trafficking is taking a new turn as board members look to add two detectives and an analyst who will focus on complex cases that often cross local and state jurisdictions.
The board will vote on Tuesday to approve paying about $100,000 for its share of the salaries for the new positions, as well as a job in the county attorney's office that will work only trafficking cases, said Commissioner Marion Greene.
The proposal comes after lengthy negotiations between the board and the sheriff's office, she said.
"We are strongly committed to helping the county's most vulnerable children, and have had a really strong response in helping victims and survivors," she said. "But we need to be more proactive in the public safety response. We are really pleased the sheriff will join the fight."
Sheriff Rich Stanek praised the board for a previously announced plan to hire dozens of child protection workers that should help on the prevention and intervention side of the issue, but he said the commitment to law enforcement's role has lagged.
This enhancement to the county's trafficking programs already in place comes with the anticipation of a significant uptick in sex business demand when the Super Bowl is played in Minneapolis next year. The sheriff's office already has two detectives dedicated to trafficking, and has worked on nearly a dozen cases in the last year. It also received 39 tips about sexually exploited youths from county workers, Stanek said.
As part of the initiative, the sheriff's office would create a countywide task force and revamp the education and training of hotel workers that started a year ago. It would also include community engagement with interpreters who speak Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali.
Although several cities and federal law enforcement agencies have gone after traffickers for years, Stanek said a coordinated partnership makes everybody's job easier and will lead to more efficient and plentiful results.
"We work cases with other departments every day, but we need a more focused effort," he said. "The police chiefs need this. It's what we should be doing."
Hennepin County's proactive efforts follow those of other metro counties, such as Washington and Ramsey. It's also part of Hennepin's No Wrong Door Response Plan that followed the state's 2011 Safe Harbor law helping victims of sex trafficking.
Hennepin County's program, started in 2014, not only aims to go after pimps and purchasers but also treats sexually exploited youths as victims and survivors rather than offenders and includes prevention efforts for at-risk teens. The county trained its workers across the entire organization to recognize the signals of somebody who is being victimized and to know whom to contact for assistance.
Earlier this week, a deputy commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Commerce lost his job after being arrested during a prostitution sting in St. Paul. Michael Shane Deal was acting deputy commissioner for financial institutions, a position in which he had served for more than three years.
A St. Paul police spokesman said Deal was arrested during an undercover operation targeting customers of prostitution. Four other men also were arrested as part of the sting at a St. Paul hotel.
Stanek said that he wasn't being critical of the board. Even if the commissioners don't approve money for the initiative, he said he will shuffle his resources to fill the three positions. His funding request was on board meeting agendas for the past couple of months, he said.
"But we want to help get them ready to invest in the initiative so we can do this the right way," he said.
Greene said the board and the sheriff's office are "all on the same page" on the initiative. She acknowledged the sheriff's office had limited resources to handle such complex cases.
"We want a much more aggressive approach," she said. "Law enforcement needs to seek out cases instead of waiting for cases to come to them."