Bend Police say a four-month undercover sting to combat human trafficking, sex work and luring of minors has resulted in the arrest of 28 people. Police say they are looking for more potential victims of the suspects.
Police say the operation lasted from May 19 through August 23.
Bend Police say officers posted ads online. They then posed as minors in text messages and phone calls.
Police say more than 200 phone numbers responded to the ads. Many of them cut off the communication when they learned they were talking to a minor. Police said the officers involved clearly identified themselves as being underage.
Those who were arrested agreed to meet and sometimes brought drugs and alcohol. They were arrested and booked at the Deschutes County Jail.
FROM 2019: Sex trafficking in Central Oregon: Victims hope to stop the cycle
Although Bend Police announced this sting as a “human trafficking project” in its press release, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel noted that none of the charges are specifically for human trafficking.
Bend Police say the investigation also resulted in multiple people coming forward and identifying themselves as victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the suspects. Police are asking anyone who is a potential victim of the suspects or knows someone who is. Call the non-emergency dispatch number at 541-693-6911.
Police say not one of the 200+ people who responded to the ads ever reached out police to report potential child sex trafficking when they learned a minor was involved.
Additionally, eight people were arrested for attempting to patronize adult sex workers, a Class A misdemeanor. They were cited and released.
“Bend Police want our community to know we are proactively investigating these crimes,” the department said in a statement. “We will continue to conduct projects like this in the future. This outreach will also let potential predators know our community is vigilant. Our goal is to identify traffickers and prevent this activity from taking place in our community. During the operation, Bend Police saw a significant decrease for demand in sex work in our community, and by extension, a decrease in sex workers operating in our community.”
Police are also urging parents, guardians and caregivers to be vigilant and stay involved in their child’s habits online. That includes knowing which apps the children are using and use parental controls when possible. Also, remind children to only chat online with people they know and make sure their accounts are private.
“There are people who target vulnerable youth via online apps and other internet sources, and we have to work together to keep our children safe,” Bend Police said.
Hummel addresses potential for human trafficking in Central Oregon
In past stories covered by Central Oregon Daily News, Hummel has said he does not believe human trafficking is an issue in Central Oregon.
“I’m confident it’s not a problem in Deschutes County. It doesn’t exist in Deschutes County,” he said in 2019 as part of an interview.
When we spoke to Hummel again today about the Bend Police sting, he said his office did work closely with the department on these arrests. Hummel also says he’s assigning his top prosecutor for dealing with crimes against children to this case.
“Over this four-month period where we were aggressively looking to see if there was human trafficking, we didn’t detect any. Now, that does not mean that there is not human trafficking in Deschutes County,” Hummel said.
Hummel says his focus is simple: Prosecuting the men who he says intended to rape children.
He adds that if he ever finds evidence of human trafficking, he will prosecute. But he says, thus far, no evidence has been found.
Watch our stories below from 2019 tackling the issue of sex trafficking in Central Oregon including our full interviews with Hummel