47 arrested in undercover prostitution bust in Tuscaloosa
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —
The Tuscaloosa Police Department arrested 47 people in connection to an undercover prostitution operation as part of a national initiative to stop sex trafficking.
Commander of Alcohol and Vice Unit Lt. Darren Beams said at least 65 charges were filed.
"We're part of what's called a circuit, from Memphis to Atlanta, down the coast to Miami," Beams said.
The trafficking team went undercover, interviewing roughly 70 women. Many women reported making up to $1,000 a day for prostitution.
"I want these individuals to know that before you answer one of those ads on back page, Craigslist, or any of these other sites, I want you to wonder," Beams said, "I want you to wonder if that's an undercover police officer, or need to think about it before making that contact."
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Days Inn Manager Pam Cockrell told me after 15 years in the business, she put her staff through TPD's training on how to spot prostitution and human sex trafficking.
"We do not want that here, we don't condone that," Cockrell said, "If we know it's happening, we're going to ask that they leave or we'll get the law involved to make them leave."
Cockrell said the biggest giveaway is the number of people who come and go.
"Most of the time, people come in once or twice and they stay in," Cockrell said, "If we see people going in and out seven, eight, ten times, then something else is going on."
Beams continues watching interstate activity daily, acknowledging there's a long way to go to end prostitution. He said awareness is key.
"Just because we've made all these arrests, doesn't mean there's an epidemic in Tuscaloosa," Beams said, "It just means we've taken a more aggressive approach to it."
The department is the only one in Alabama who participated in the National Johns Suppression Initiative started in 2011. This year’s effort included 37 law enforcement agencies in 17 states.
The initiative seeks to make sex trafficking less profitable and riskier for offenders.
Beams said he's talked with the Hoover Police Department about participating next year.