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Human trafficking sting nets 11

Police in Renton arrested 11 men last week for commercial exploitation of a minor during a sting at a Renton hotel called "Operation Cold Shower."

The 11 men range in age from 20 to 45, come from cities all around Puget Sound including Renton, Bellevue, Seattle, Auburn and Lynnwood and have all been charged with felony commercial exploitation of a minor.

The operation, which took place July 9 and 10, was headed by Officer Bryan Elliott of the Renton Special Operations Division and Special Enforcement team.

"This has been something as a police department we have been talking about for quite a while," Elliott said Tuesday.

Elliott said the operation came after the mayor, police chief and city administrator attended special presentation on human trafficking earlier this year and decided to see how big the problem was in Renton.

"Human trafficking has become a major problem," Law said. "We know this sort of thing happens in the Puget Sound region and right here in Renton."

Elliott said the decision as made to try and address the problem by going after the "johns" or customers.

Working with the King County Sheriff's Department, Renton police set up a sting reminiscent of the television show "To Catch a Predator."

"They really helped us to have a successful operation," Elliott said of the Sheriff's Department.

According to the FBI, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise over the past 10 years and 33 percent of the victims are juveniles. Of those, 75 percent are usually girls who are coerced or forced into the sex trade.

According to the FBI, Seattle is part of a larger West Coast trafficking region known as "The Loop," which stretches from Seattle to San Diego, over to Pheonix and Las Vegas and up to Boise, Idaho.

According to Elliott, who called human trafficking and the exploitation of minors "one of the most heinous crimes a person can commit," most of the victims are dead by 23.

"Our goal is to save these girls as best we can," he said, adding that the average age of girls involved in these trades is 13. "It's really sad."

Elliott has been working with the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force, gaining knowledge, training and experience in larger operations, though he said he is not a full-time member of the task force.

The results of last week's sting surprised even Elliott.

"The results we got were double any expectations I had in this operation," he said.

"The success of the operation is really a statement of how bad this problem is," agreed Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich. "Human Trafficking is a local, regional, and national problem and it will require resources at all three levels to make an impact and reduce demand."

Elliott was clear that no officers or minors were placed in harm's way during the operation.

Law said he was pleased with the result of the operation, but was "disheartened" that apparently so many people think it's ok to take advantage of teenagers in this way and said the city would continue to work with regional partners to end these types of crimes.

"This is all part of a regional effort," Law said. "Hopefully it will make some headway."

"I think it's really going to open the eyes of the community that this is a regional problem," Elliott said of his sting, adding that this is an "ongoing battle."

"If someone's going to be doing something like this in Renton, we're going to do our best to get them and help these girls," he said.

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