Colorado law enforcement officials on Wednesday released additional details about local efforts to combat a national problem - commercial child sex trafficking.
Local, state and federal agencies worked together to recover 18 juveniles in an week-long effort dubbed Operation Cross Country, a nationwide effort spearheaded by the FBI.
"It's not about one week. It's about every other day after this week," said Denver Police Department Sgt. Dan Steele during a new conference at the FBI's Denver office. Steele supervises a multi-agency task force designed to combat human trafficking. "We're seeing this movement toward selling people, toward selling minors," he said.
Of the 18 juveniles recovered as from as far south as Pueblo and as far north as Casper, Wyo., two were recovered from Colorado Springs - a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl, said Colorado Springs police detective Lt. Mark Comte, with the multi-agency Metro, Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence unit.
The Colorado Springs police department participated in the initiative on Wednesday through Friday of last week, directing their efforts toward online sites that advertise sex with juveniles.
He said the boy was trading sex for a place to stay using an online website. The 17-year-old girl was recovered during a reverse sting, where undercover posed as "johns," or commercial sex customers.
Comte said around 20 juveniles, mostly teen girls, have been recovered in similar operations since the department's human trafficking task force unit was established late last year.
"The majority of victims come from some kind of a abusive or broken background," he said. "Our goal is to get the girls into treatment."
He said the Colorado Springs police department is also working with local school districts to develop intervention programs to confront what he calls a "societal problem."
Both the local and national efforts only scratched the surface of growing problem, however. "This doesn't mean we solved this problem. Not even for this month. Not even for this year," said George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District Attorney.
His office is overseeing two human trafficking cases from the operation, including one in Douglas County and one in Arapahoe County. During Wednesday's news conference he recalled one case in which two runaway teen girls met a woman in parking lot who offered to help them. Within 24 hours the girls were being advertised for sex online.
Efforts to combat the sex crimes will be helped along by new laws that go into effect on July 1, which will impose harsher sentences for people who participate in human trafficking crimes, Brauchler said.
Collaboration also helps, said Colorado State Patrol Lt. Brenda Leffler, who oversees the smuggling, trafficking and interdiction section of the patrol. Leffler said she hopes the effort has a "ripple effect" and describes the effort as way to the broaden the umbrella of information sharing between enforcement agencies.
"We can't do this by ourselves," she said. A total of 23 of law enforcement agencies in Colorado and Wyoming participated in the sting operation. They arrested and identified 11 pimps and 68 johns. Nearly 40 other adults were cited or arrested for prostitution, the agency reported.
The FBI reports that to date, 3,600 children have been recovered through the collaborative efforts of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.