San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is asking new Mayor Mark Farrell to let him install a Human Trafficking Unit in his office, a proposal that gained the support of a key women’s group in the city.
“We’re a hub for tourism, and we recognize that this is somewhere we should have our attention devoted,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office.
Gascón, the city’s former police chief, requested 10 positions for the unit: Four investigators, three prosecutors, two victim’s services advocates and a data analyst. These would be new positions started with new funds from the city.
Across the bridge, Alameda County’s district attorney already employs a human trafficking unit with 16 staff dedicated. Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two most populous counties, also operate human trafficking units.
“While a 2017 study published by the National Institute of Justice found that 58 percent of all defendants in federal human trafficking cases operated as part of an organized criminal group, San Francisco has not identified, investigated or prosecuted any criminal organizations involved in human trafficking,” said Gascón’s proposal. A trafficking unit would help the D.A.’s office “more effectively identify and prosecute labor and sex traffickers, and disrupt criminal organizations that drive trafficking,” the proposal said.
In 2016, former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking identified more than 500 survivors of human trafficking in San Francisco. In 2017, only nine human trafficking cases were presented by police to San Francisco District Attorney’s Office (SFDA), only one of which included sufficient evidence for charging.
The San Francisco Department on the Status of Women has endorsed the plan. In an email, the department’s policy director, Minouche Kandel, urged colleagues to sign a letter of support to the mayor.
“Human trafficking is a highly complex international criminal enterprise, involving vulnerable victims that are unlikely to self-identify, and that requires multi-faceted investigative and prosecutorial approaches,” the letter of support says. “This multi-disciplinary investigation and vertical prosecution model is a strategic, proactive approach that is both driven by data and victim-centered.”
It will be Mayor Farrell’s call whether to include it in his next budget proposal. Action would then turn to the city council for approval.