Texas law prevents efforts to crack down on sex trafficking, Dallas police say – CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn says she will never forget to see police shut down a sex trafficking operation disguised as a massage parlor.

“There was one room that was no bigger than 10 x 10, and it was just completely filled with mattresses on the floor. And it was here, 5 of the women were locked inside all day, unless they had customers, ”she recalled.

The officers, she said, met in advance and had a board that printed out the details of the criminal business, including who was involved, how money was earned and how people were moved.

“They will always tell you that policing is not like what you see on TV, but in this case, it actually was,” she said.

Since 2019, Dallas police have led 22 operations targeting massage companies, which they say were fronts of organized crime.

The result has been 38 people arrested and 50 victims given resources to help them escape forced prostitution.

Mendelsohn said, after seeing the problem first hand, she began asking about other tactics the city could use to stop human trafficking.

The city of San Jose, where Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia previously worked, she found, was successful in implementing new rules, such as blocking accommodations in massage parlors and requiring customers to walk through the front door.

In Texas, it’s not that easy.

“The problem is that Texas has a law that replaces what cities can do to massage parlors,” Mendelsohn said.

The state licenses and regulates massage companies.

During a public safety committee meeting Monday, Jan. 10, Lieutenant Lisette Rivera of the Dallas Police Department’s deputy unit explained that the city is not allowed to enforce anything stricter than what the state requires.

“Companies are inspected or investigated, but mostly based on complaints and not easy, consistent regulatory process,” said Lieutenant Rivera. “Companies can shut down and they can open under a different name. Workers can be relocated to another location or state. Businesses can also use anonymous shell companies that make it difficult to target the business owner. “

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation confirmed that it has 10 field inspectors visiting licensed massage parlors and schools across the state to ensure they meet licensing requirements, such as keeping the facility clean and sanitary, with a view to signs of human trafficking.

A separate anti-trafficking unit has six members who are investigating complaints.

Mendelsohn believes city police or compliance officers could be appointed to carry out these inspections themselves and set higher fines for companies that break the rules.

City leaders could consider lobbying the state for a law change that would allow them to implement new enforcement strategies. Meanwhile, the city is considering regulating similar reflexology or foot massage services that do not fall under state supervision.

Police are also investigating how other departments around the state are working within the law to crack down on human trafficking.

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