Henrico hotels join efforts to fight human trafficking - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Henrico hotels join efforts to fight human trafficking

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) -

Hotel workers are joining the fight to crackdown on human trafficking in Henrico County. Police say several young girls are safe right now, because hotel employees got involved.

Henrico Police asked that we not identify what hotels are involved, but officers do say the have more than 100 contacts at hotels in the West End and eastern Henrico.

Police say one girl from Henrico was 16 years old when she was forced into prostitution, working out of a local hotel room. It was a call from a hotel employee who knew something wasn't right that brought her home.

"We have a vast amount of hotels in the county and there's a limited amount of vice detectives," said Sgt. Shawn Diasparra.

Sgt. Diasparra, who often works undercover and didn't want us to show his face, tells us this girl is one of seven young teenagers they have rescued over the past two years.

"They're left with no money, no identification, just the clothes they need for the dates and maybe a $15 to $20 budget," he said.

It's all a part of "Operation Innkeeper," an ongoing initiative across the county that's brought a lot of success. Officers tell us, they've arrested dozens of prostitutes and pimps; taken nine guns off the street and seized at least $80-thousand in cash.

But Sgt. Diasparra says much of the success isn't just from policing, it's from the hotel employees.

"They know if they call, I'll get them what they need," he said. "It won't disrupt their business - it's dealt with to protect their business and also not to harm their brand."

Some hotel employees are now being trained on what to look out for: including a "do not disturb" sign on the door all the time or random traffic to the same room.

"When the criminal element realizes that we're serious about enforcement, they won't come here anymore," said Henrico Police Chief Doug Middleton.

Chief Middleton was just awarded the first ever Freedom Maker Award for leading the way in prosecuting human traffickers and rescuing victims. He says it's a team effort and credits everyone; from the patrol officers, to the Commonwealth's Attorney, federal agencies and the non-profits who help the victims recover.

He says officers are going to be relentless in their efforts, making sure the next place these pimps check into is a jail cell.

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