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Scottsdale becomes first Arizona city to train staff to identify human trafficking victims

SCOTTSDALE — Popular tourist areas have become a hot spot for human traffickers, making those in Scottsdale vulnerable.

"To be honest we're a hub. We're a hub for major events and major activities and with that comes illegal sex trade," said Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther at a press conference on Wednesday.

That's why the city of Scottsdale is working with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network and Homeland Security Investigations to train its employees on how to identify, report and prevent human and sex trafficking.

Through the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network’s Cities Engaged Against Sexual Exploitation program, Scottsdale has been able to train more than 75% of its staff on human trafficking.

Scottsdale is the first city in the state to be designated as a C-City.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said at the press conference that training like this helps stop human trafficking.

“We are able to bring not only awareness to this issue, but make sure employees and people within cities like Scottsdale know the signs and can help us deter and prevent anyone from becoming a victim of human trafficking,” Brnovich said.

Walthers explains since this training was implemented, there have been multiple instances when a city employee has saved an individual.

“We've already had three people, three employees in this city, call our Heat unit and say, 'I saw something and it's not right,’ and they were right,” Walthers said.

“That's what this training provides."

Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network also provides training on human trafficking to hospitality staff at hotels through its free Safeguarding All From Exploitation Action Project.

Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale was the first hotel in Arizona to receive the SAFE certification in 2020. This training was done by front desk staff, guest services, security, housekeeping and additional staff.

Adrian Aguawo, a security guard with the hotel who went through the training, said the hotel has trained 80% of its staff on how to identify, report and prevent human trafficking.

“You're looking for a male or female with someone else, victims that could have bruising, be under the drug abuse, look fatigued and at the same time being controlled or manipulated by a trafficker,” Aguawo said.

Aguawo said it's a group effort to identify human trafficking.

“You come to the hotel, we have valet staff, they're looking for the signs right there,” he said. “Front desk, we have housekeeping, they're going through the rooms, they're checking and looking for any signs that are suspicious."

Walthers stressed how important it is to bring awareness to human trafficking.

"The city of Scottsdale has said not on my watch,” he said. “I'm going to stand for those victims who can't stand for themselves and we're going to train everybody to see what is in plain sight, but nobody wants to see."

The leaders at the press conference said the goal is to bring this training to every city in Arizona.