Local law enforcement is beginning to make security plans for when Tampa hosts the Super Bowl in 2021, and human trafficking is one issue they're focusing on.
At a summit on human trafficking hosted by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Monday, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister cited the recent Super Bowl in Atlanta as why his office wants to ramp up efforts to fight trafficking when it’s Tampa’s turn to host.
Earlier this month, the FBI announced it had arrested 169 people in a human trafficking operation in Atlanta. 26 of them were suspected traffickers. Dozens more were trying to have sex with minors.
The 11-day operation began on January 23 and concluded February 2, the day before Super Bowl LIII.
"So we're already gearing our plan to start much earlier, knowing that when big events like that come to the city of Tampa, so does the desire," Chronister said.
Other Florida law enforcement will have to tackle this issue next year as well when Miami hosts the 2020 Super Bowl.
“Not only sporting events but conventions, any big events, bring in traffickers to sell their ‘product,’” said Dottie Groover-Skipper, the anti-trafficking coordinator for the Salvation Army's Florida Division who moderated the Tampa summit.
Also in attendance were Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, CEO and Co-Founder of Selah Freedom, Dr. Dion Samerson, Medical Director for St. Joseph's Hospital Emergency Department and Julie Sercus, Assistant Statewide Prosecutor with the Florida Office of the Attorney General.
Sercus was filling in for Attorney General Ashley Moody, who cancelled plans to be on the panel after President Donald Trump invited her to join him in Miami where he addressed the city's Venezuelan community about his administration's crackdown on President Nicolas Maduro's regime.
Panelists discussed the importance of raising awareness about human trafficking through education and training.
Chronister said his office uses a multi-pronged approach to combat trafficking, and added the county may receive a new tool soon.
He said he is working with Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman on an ordinance that would make it illegal for landlords to rent out places known to be sites for human trafficking. The main target, he said, is pay-by-the-hour motels.
Florida Matters will air highlights from the summit in an upcoming episode. You can hear it Tuesday February 26 at 6:30 p.m. on WUSF 89.7.