Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation have been a hidden plague on our county, state, and nation for many years. In 2013 it became clear that the District Attorney’s Office needed to focus efforts on more effectively investigating and criminally prosecuting these ruthless exploiters.
In January 2013 I tasked our Public Affairs Officer with producing a documentary that delves into the problem of sexual exploitation in the nation's largest county.
From boastful pimps preying on young women to one woman's quest to open a home for female victims, the film highlights a unique coalition of government agencies and how they are reaching deep into the community to eradicate human trafficking.
With the passage of Prop 35, which increased the penalty for human trafficking from an average of 6 years in prison to 15 years-life, the District Attorney is fully implementing the new law and also holding those who are driving the demand for sexual exploitation accountable.
On January 18, 2013, the District Attorney’s Office announced several directives to strengthen its zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking at the premiere of a 45-minute documentary aimed at generating awareness about the sexual exploitation of minors.
In April 2013 we formed a Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. Since the inception of this unit, we have sent many predators to state prison. Most notably is Christopher Knox, who under Prop 35, now faces life in state prison. To date, along with two pending potential life sentences, 17 convicted predators have been sent to state prison for a total of 128 years. Twenty-eight cases are currently pending trial.
We have also implemented the “Stop-the-John” Project in which the District Attorney’s Office releases and posts online the names and photographs of defendants convicted of solicitation. Since the inception of the Stop-the-John Project, 30 photos of men convicted of solicitation of prostitution have been posted online, while 156 other defendants are currently awaiting trial or at some other phase of the court process.
In the first two weeks after the first photo was posted, there was 20,000+ hits to the Stop-the-John page alone. Nearly one-third of those hits came from underground websites where “johns” connect with men or women to exchange money for sex. Overall, the web page has seen over 100,000 hits.
The San Bernardino County gang problem continues to grow in significance. A 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report released by the FBI ranked San Bernardino County third in the nation in its gang population. San Bernardino County came in just under Cook County, Ill. and Los Angeles County with 40,558 identified gang members. Cook County came in second with 60,125 identified gang members and Los Angeles County took first place with 68,208, according to FBI numbers.
Gang members are murderers, robbers, auto thieves, and drug dealers and are even moving heavily into human trafficking and identity theft. There is also great competition among the gangs resulting in numerous assaults and murders. Not only are gangs violent with each other, they commit crimes against our citizens and against our law enforcement officers.
It is the mission of this office’s gang resources to effectively and aggressively prosecute gangs and their members so that our county’s citizens may enjoy a safe and stable community in which to live and work. To do so, the Office has instituted Four Phases in its fight against gangs.
Phase 1: Gang Suppression and Prosecution
San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office gang prosecutors shall aggressively prosecute gang members and those that associate with them to achieve the gangs’ purpose. Gang allegations shall be filed and pursued whenever provable. Prosecutors should seek state prison sentences for gang members. In probation cases prosecutors shall seek the imposition of “gang terms.” Vertical prosecution of gang cases is encouraged to the extent possible. To maximize our countywide effect on gangs and their members, consistent case filing and case disposition standards by all office Gang Units is critical.
Phase 2: Witness Assistance and Relocation
It is recognized that witnesses in gang cases present particular problems for prosecutors. Victims and witnesses are typically reluctant to testify in court. They are either gang members themselves or are citizens who are fearful of retaliation for coming forward in court.
Last year, our office assisted in the relocation of 48 total witnesses and family members. Fifteen of these cases were gang-related. In one notable case, a witness had just finished hosting a children’s party at his house when a confrontation involving two gang members occurred outside the residence. During the confrontation, the witness—who is not a gang member or someone who even associates with gang members—was shot in the stomach and then struck in the head repeatedly with a handgun.
Phase 3: Gang Injunctions
Yet another component necessary to suppressing gang criminal activity within the County is the use of gang injunctions. Once again, with the support of the County Board of Supervisors and the interest of local officials and police, in 2007, District Attorney Ramos launched the Gang Injunction Unit (GIU) as another phase of the countywide crackdown on gangs.
Phase 4: Prevention and Intervention
I know from my years in law enforcement in and out of the courtroom, that if we only focus on adult offenders, we will never effectively address the crime problem. Most adult criminals started by getting into trouble as juveniles and eventually dropping out of school. It is in those early years when we have the best chance of steering them back on course. Click here to read more about my efforts to prevent crime.
CRIMES AGAINST PEACE OFFICERS
Every hour of every day law enforcement officers in San Bernardino County put their personal safety at risk to protect our communities. In 2012, in our county alone, over 2100 peace officers were assaulted, injured, threatened, or interfered with in the performance of their duties. Of these crimes, over 600 were felonies involving physical violence against an officer, use of a weapon on an officer, or threats to kill or injure an officer.
As District Attorney I have a responsibility to change this culture in our criminal justice system and ensure that we are doing everything possible to deter, prosecute, and punish those who attack, threaten, or interfere with our law enforcement officers. I am proud to have announced the creation of the Crimes Against Peace Officers (CAPO) Prosecution Unit to help us accomplish these goals.
MAJOR CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN UNIT
Children are our most defenseless and vulnerable crime victims. Inflicting serious injury or torture on a helpless child is one of the most atrocious and heinous crimes we prosecute. The citizens of this county should know that this office is dedicated to protecting our innocent children by prosecuting their abusers to the fullest extent of the law, and today, we are taking another step to ensure justice.