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Utah Police Unit Wants Better Grip On Prostitution

Prostitutes walking the streets isn't a terribly common sight in Utah, but authorities say it is a pretty difficult problem to solve. And now, a new police unit is hoping to get a better grip on what is a very old problem.
File (ABC 4)
File (ABC 4)
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Prostitutes walking the streets isn't a terribly common sight in Utah, but authorities say it is a pretty difficult problem to solve.

Difficult enough that the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) has replaced its old vice squad with a new unit better designed to battle the underlying causes of prostitution. The new squad -- called the Organized Crime Unit -- is changing the way prostitution and other vices are handled, SLCPD Chief Chris Burbank told The Deseret News.

"Our commitment isn't just to write a bunch of $50 tickets for prostitution," he said. "We are actually looking at... who's responsible for this activity and who's benefiting from it."

Burbank also said his officers will enlist the help of federal law enforcement agencies -- like the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation -- when needed. The OCU is comprised of eight officers, who will investigate prostitution, gambling and underage alcohol sales. And Burbank said those officers will now try to do more in plain sight than they will undercover.

"It is ridiculous to think that I am going to send a police officer out and, in essence, engage in the criminal act that we are going to arrest somebody for moments later," Burbank told the newspaper. "We will accomplish more in uniform than in an undercover capacity."

Burbank's primary motivation for battling prostitution is the well-being of the dozens of young women and boys who are lured into sex trafficking against their will, largely through drug or alcohol dependence. In many cases, those teens have no choice but to continue prostituting themselves in order to support their habits.

In the past, vice officers spent a lot of time online posing as underage boys and girls -- and they would receive hundreds of sexual solicitations. Chief Burbank says that's the proof that prostitution is a big problem in Utah. One he hopes his new unit will get a better grip on.

MORE: New Police Unit Looks at Different Ways of Battling Vices (Deseret News)
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