Undercover operations in Lehi area free 3 human trafficking victims, lead to 21 arrests

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File photo: Wikimedia/Utah County Sheriff's Office

UTAH COUNTY, Utah, March 24, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — It’s not something Utah County Sheriff’s officials like to talk about. Catching predators pretty much mandates that any law enforcement efforts remain covert.

But on Thursday, UCSO Lt. Jason Randall, Investigations Bureau commander, talked to reporters about a Feb. 14 Human Trafficking Enforcement operation — in the Lehi area¬† involving multiple law enforcement agencies — which resulted in 21 arrests.

“It was extremely successful,” Randall told listeners.

Operations usually use law enforcement officers, posing a children, who exchange messages online with adults who are seeking “meetings.”

The officers allow the suspects to incriminate themselves, stating what they want to do with the children, and when and where they would like to meet, and how the victims will recognize them.

Predators are then met by arresting officers.

One child predator who expected to meet a child for sex brought rope, tape, toys and lingerie, Randall said.

Utah County Jail. Photo: Google Streets

Trafficking victims

“And the most important aspect of this operation was the fact that we were able to identify and rescue three victims that were being human trafficked,” Randall said.

“And these victims are are cooperating with us. We’ve been able to get resources, we’ve been able to get them opportunities to get out of the situations they were in, in which they were being human trafficked.”

The adults are referred to a Special Victims’ Unit, which can help with counseling and resources needed to turn lives around.

“One thing we have learned in doing these operations is that every victim is different, and the reasons why every victim is in a human trafficking situation is going to be different,” Randall said. “And so what we were able to do in this operation is after we were able to identify them and have them come in, however that happened, (and) we’re able to sit down with them and have an interview with them and talk to them and try to find out exactly what was triggering this behavior.”

Traffickers often draw in victims through drugs, violence, coercion or the illusion of love, Randall said. Then, those being trafficked don’t think they can break away because they think “I don’t know anything else,” Randall said.

“And that’s one of the purposes of these operations, is to identify those causation factors, and hopefully remove them and give those individuals a chance to turn the life around and get out of that situation.”

Randall said the department is proud of all the arrests it has made and the victims it has helped, “this is this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. This is like a snowflake on an iceberg. We’re barely scratching the surface.

“And there are victims out there that truly right now or all they see is black. And they don’t see hope. They don’t see light. All they see is black, and they see no way out. And so one of the reasons we wanted to do this is to let those victims know that there are answers there. There are solutions.”

The Sheriff’s Office wants to take predators off the street, and let trafficking victims of all ages know there is help available.

“As a sheriff’s office, we want to change that,” Randall said. “We want to find those victims and get them out of the situations they’re in and get them whatever help they need to to turn their life around and get and get them out of this just horrendous place” they are in.

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