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Dooley Asks County Council To Boost The Effort To Fight Human Trafficking

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is pushing for more money to combat human trafficking. 

Dooley asked the St. Louis County Council Tuesday for $250,000 to establish a computer forensic laboratory and hire two forensic examiners. That equipment and additional personnel could help establish evidence that could prosecute sex traffickers. 

“We are seeing an increase in the amount of cases in St. Louis County,” Dooley said. “These cases are difficult to prosecute because victims are afraid. So [investigators] have to rely on forensics like phone call records, text messages, e-mails, etc.”

St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar said in a statement that the additional money would expand the department’s one-man forensics lab.

“The goal is a staff of five computer forensic examiners who will use computers, software and other equipment to examine the computers seized from arrests and search warrants to gather electronic data, recover evidence and complete forensic reports,” Belmar said.

Adam Kavanaugh of the St. Louis County Police Department said the staffers and resources are needed because human trafficking relies increasingly on technology.

Adding more staffers with that kind of expertise, Kavanaugh said, could reduce the department’s backlog – and potentially get human traffickers off the streets.

“Human trafficking is all run through the computer nowadays,” Kavanuagh said. “Here in St. Louis County, it’s not girls walking the track as much. You might see more of that in St. Louis City. Here it’s all computer related, phone related. And that requires a lot of forensic work to be done.”

Dooley is seeking a supplemental budget request to pay for staffers and equipment. He said he’ll ask for more money next year to hire even more forensics personnel.

Dooley is the latest St. Louis area official who is seeking to combat human trafficking. U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, is pushing for legislation on a federal level that would punish publications that knowingly advertise underage prostitution.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.