Cheyenne Police Target Human Trafficking
Cheyenne police are working to address the city's human trafficking problem, but say they can't do it alone.
"It's not a law enforcement problem, it's a community problem," said Sgt. Tim Meyrick.
Meyrick, who was instrumental in forming the department's Human Trafficking Task Force in 2016, says there's a misconception that human trafficking is a big-city problem.
"This is a problem, even in Cheyenne," said Meyrick.
"Some people tend to forget (that) we're at the crossroads of I-80 and I-25 (and) there's a lot of traffic through the area," said Officer Kevin Malatesta. "We have some big truck stops and some big events that take place in the community as well."
One of those events, Cheyenne Frontier Days, saw roughly a dozen prostitution-related arrests last year.
"Human trafficking is not prostitution, however it's often disguised as prostitution," said Meyrick.
Meyrick says 80 percent of all human trafficking involves sex trafficking and 80-90 percent of all prostitution is pimp controlled.
"Eighty percent of victims are women," said Meyrick. "There's victims of all walks of life."
Police say one of the biggest challenges is getting victims to leave their pimps.
"Like a domestic violence victim, there's a whole lifestyle that's been built up," said Malatesta. "It's a very difficult process to get them out of that cycle."
"We have to approach this proactively," said Meyrick, who's been taking the message to places such as hotels and truck stops.
"Those are the folks who tend to encounter the victims of human trafficking," said Malatesta. "We want to make sure that they have the resources and the ability to identify human trafficking and take those next steps to get it to stop."