KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An undercover human trafficking sting resulted in the arrests of 24 people in Independence, Missouri, last week, police said.
The Independence Police Department criminal investigations unit and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the operation to combat prostitution and human trafficking crimes in Independence, police said.
The investigation, which took place over two days, focused on a hotel near Noland Road and Interstate 70.
One missing person was located as the result of the investigation, and four human trafficking victims were rescued, police said.
Anti human-trafficking groups in the Kansas City metro said they were not surprised that the sting took place in that location.
"I would say that is certainly a hot spot," said Kris Wade, executive director of The Justice Project of Kansas City.
Wade said multiple federal and local operations have targeted that area.
"I think a lot of it is just because it's off the highway," Wade said. "It's convenient for people to get on and off and to travel to."
Wade said she's been a part of operations that have arrested alleged pimps or traffickers who run a circuit through Kansas City. She said they may go from Joplin to Springfield to Kansas City, then over to Columbia and St. Louis and then make the route back.
In the Independence investigation, 15 people were arrested for prostitution, three for patronizing prostitution and two for promoting prostitution.
Many times, human trafficking victims and prostitutes blend together, but Wade said there is a difference.
"Either force, fraud or coercion has to be involved if the victim is 18 or over," Wade said. "And if they're 18 or under they’re automatically considered a victim, but not everything rises to level of human trafficking."
Police said the prostitution arrests involved people ranging in age from late teens to 50s.
Many people involved in prostitution, mostly women, feel they have no other options, so it's more of a decision rather than a bad choice, Wade said. Groups such as hers are working to get prostitution decriminalized.
"When you're carrying a prostitution conviction in a state where there is no expungement of anything, it gets very difficult for people down the road," Wade said.
Independence police broke down the results of the investigation:
Patronizing Prostitution: 3
Promoting Prostitution: 2
Felon in Possession of a Firearm: 1
Possession of Illegal Drugs/Controlled Substance: 3
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia: 3
Aiding in the Commission Misdemeanor: 3
Parties (Providing False Identification): 1
*Total Criminal Charges: 34
Driving While Revoked: 1
Firearms Recovered: 2
Missing Persons Located: 1
Human Trafficking Victims Rescued: 4
*Total number of people arrested: 24