Police Fight Sex-Trafficking with Unlikely Partners

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CHICAGO --  Human trafficking has grown so much, the crime is challenging illegal drugs as the most profitable criminal enterprise in the country.

In Chicago, police are working to solve more than 220 missing person cases. A growing number of those are children being trafficked for sex.

Police realize they can't fight this problem alone. That reality has given birth to a unique partnership.

Fighting this crime wave takes more than a gun and uniform. You need a street perspective, and that's where community activist Andrew Holmes and former cop Carlos Rodriguez come in.

Both now work as private investigators with Morrison Security. They also lead the firm's volunteer effort to rescue victims of sex trafficking.

Sean Morrison owns the business and doesn't charge victim's families for the search and rescue.

Still, Morrison told CBN News, "Carlos and Andrew Holmes, they are the rock stars of this whole thing. They are my heroes and I always tell them that."

CBN News spent a few days shadowing the two men and their tireless work.

Rock Stars, Heroes

"It just gets to me sometimes -- not sometimes, all the times -- trying to rescue these kids and the condition that they are in, dehydrated," Holmes said in an emotional interview.

"You can see their ribs, just standing there, no shoes, eyes blood shot red. Body has been abused," he said.
 
Carlos Rodriguez described the work the company has been doing for the last four years.

"When we're on the street, working, side by side with the Chicago Police Department and providing them with information, they know that there are children involved and you know a police officer will take a lot of calls. But when it is a child, that is a sore spot for any officer," Rodriguez said.

"We seemed to have been called to this. And we do look at it as a calling. People say why do you do this? And my response has always been if we don't do it, who is going to do it," Morrison said.
 
The Call Center

The firm has set up a phone center where people can call to offer crime tips. The phones ring often with many people who don't want to call police because they are afraid.
 
On CBN News' visit to the firm, Holmes and Rodriguez take a call about a missing 16-year-old. After talking to police and scouring online sex ads, the investigators follow a lead to a nearby hotel.

That lead does not deliver the girl, but in just 24 hours, Rodriguez and Holmes track down the missing girl at an abandoned house on the city's South Side.

The happy ending is the latest of the more than 85 rescues performed by the security firm.

Holmes described the rescue saying,

"It never gets old because there is always another one," Holmes said, describing the rescue. "But to deliver her hand in hand to her family, it means so much to me. It means glory to me. My prayers have been answered."

The Rescue

Andrew reunites the victim with her uncle, Meldan Langford.

"I feel so blessed right now.  My daughter just graduated yesterday. Just to find her. It is just another blessing in itself," Langford told CBN News.

"Our first mission is to rescue these children from off the street and get them back to an environment where they have safety," Morrison said in reaction to the rescue. "Our second mission is to educate."
 
Just hours later Andrew headed back to the city's south side. This time, he delivered a message of warning to children at the Southside Worship Center. He was there at the invitation of the church's pastor, Titus Lee.
 
Pastor Lee has made it his mission to teach the children and adults in his congregation about the growing criminal enterprise.

He even turned a Wednesday night bible study into a workshop on sex trafficking. Rodriguez and Holmes lead that meeting.

"I realize that if the church is silent, we are going to lose more young people. We must be vocal. We must be proactive and we must engage," Lee told CBN News.

Learning to Be Watchful

The pastor and father of young daughters said his eyes are certainly more watchful.

"When I look at a girl walking alone now, with her head down, I wonder is she one. Where is her home?  Is she out here wandering? Or is she under someone else's control? Or is she headed that way, without intervention? When I see them on their cell phones, scrolling now, who are they communicating with?" Lee said.
 
"It's reality," the pastor continued. "There are victims and victimizers who could be right in the community and right in the church."
 
And while Morrison Security has rescued several victims in that church's neighborhood, many potential targets remain across the city.
 
Morrison said the victims "cover the whole spectrum from A to Z, as far as background goes."

"Educated, some are not educated. Some are working, middle class families." he said. "We even have law enforcement personnel, grandchildren of law enforcement personnel."

In many ways, human trafficking is a speeding train, moving faster than even police can track. And officers say its profit engine could soon overtake the drug trade.

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.