A two-year pilot program approved this week will shift staffing to combat youth sex trafficking in Hennepin County.
The County Board on Tuesday unanimously approved hiring an investigator and prosecutor to work only on sex trafficking cases in Minneapolis and west metro suburbs.
"These cases do need to be sought out because of their complexity," Commissioner Marion Greene said. "I'm excited to see Hennepin investing in dedicated staff."
The program comes nearly a year before the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, which is expected to increase the number of sex trafficking cases.
The new prosecutor and investigator will start in the spring and help with the growing number of cases uncovered by city and suburban law enforcement agencies, which already are coordinating efforts to help victims and target traffickers and buyers.
"This issue is truly a problem and it doesn't know any geographic boundaries," Plymouth Police Chief Michael Goldstein said. "People would be surprised at how prevalent it is."
County Board Chairwoman Jan Callison said Tuesday that the pilot program was important, and that the only questions raised about it were over financing it in future years. The program will cost $174,399 this year and $233,127 in 2018, about half the amount initially proposed.
The County Board had discussed plans for the program for weeks, but delayed a decision because of commissioners' concerns about spending money from the county's contingency fund, especially for more staffers in the Sheriff's Office.
The initial request included three specialized Sheriff's Office staffers and one prosecutor in the county attorney's office.
Hennepin County is behind other metro-area counties, such as Washington and Ramsey, in combating sex trafficking. Hennepin's No Wrong Door Response Plan, which followed the state's 2011 Safe Harbor law to help victims of sex trafficking, goes after pimps and purchasers and treats sexually exploited youths as victims and survivors.
Since the program began in 2014, Hennepin County has added a coordinator and two social workers who work with sex trafficking victims, said Amanda Koonjbeharry, the program's coordinator.
With the two new positions, the county will track outcomes such as the number of cases investigated and prosecuted in the pilot program.
Officials with the Sheriff's Office said it already has two detectives dedicated to trafficking and has worked on nearly a dozen cases in the last year. The county attorney's office has seen the number of its cases rise from 20 in 2014 to 51 in 2016.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141