SANTA ANA, Calif.—Fifty-six suspects were arrested in a human trafficking sting operation coordinated in early February, Orange County law enforcement officials announced on Feb. 18.
Called “Operation Red Zone,” the arrests included men ages 20 to 55 from both Orange and Los Angeles Counties on charges including human trafficking, pimping and pandering, solicitation for sex, and narcotics.
Authorities rescued 16 victims in the operation, including two children under the age of 16.
“We sent a message loud and clear that human trafficking will be met with swift action in Orange County,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “Through inter-department collaboration, we deployed substantial investigative resources across the county and were able to make a significant number of arrests. Most importantly two young victims have been brought to safety and resources were offered to other victims.”
The Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center coordinated the operation in partnership with 11 local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The agencies went undercover to investigate “online-based sex solicitation websites” and other “known problematic businesses” in order to catch the men, according to the sheriff’s department. Each agency utilized the investigative techniques most impactful for their city.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer warned other human traffickers to stay out of Orange County.
“Proactive investigations like this allow law enforcement agencies to contact vulnerable victims of sex trafficking who might have otherwise never been able to escape their traffickers and receive valuable victim services that can help them heal, and every arrest we make and every case we file serves as a message to human traffickers everywhere: don’t come to Orange County,” Spitzer said in a statement.
The victims were subsequently connected with Waymakers, a victim-assistance program that provides crisis intervention including shelter, transportation, and other necessities to human trafficking victims.
Participating in Operation Red Zone agencies included the police departments of Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Santa Ana, Westminster, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.