With the Super Bowl just days away, federal law enforcement officials announced Wednesday they have arrested 33 people in metro Atlanta on sex-trafficking charges. Authorities said they had also rescued four victims as part of the operation.
Advocates have warned that large sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, are attractive to those in the sex-trafficking trade. They say the crime can surge when lots of free-spending travelers are around.
The 33 arrests came during the past four days, according to Nick Annan, Homeland Security Investigations special agent in charge. But Annan declined to discuss specifics of the cases, citing ongoing efforts that will continue throughout the week.
“We plan to continue what we’re doing,” Annan said.
More than 40 local and state law enforcement agencies, along with 25 federal agencies, are assisting with security for the Super Bowl. Officers and security members have been visible throughout downtown Atlanta where events have been held, and those efforts will continue until hours after the big game. So far, all of the months of planning for keeping fans safe in Atlanta has paid off. And those efforts will ramp up as the game gets closer and more visitors arrive.
On Jan. 23 and 24, Homeland Security assisted in a joint operation in Douglas County using undercover officers, social media sites and local hotel rooms, the Douglasville Police Department said Wednesday. Sixteen people were arrested, according to police, and the youngest person involved was 17. The timing of the crackdown was related to the Super Bowl, police said.
Investigators have also found more than 2,000 counterfeit items, according to Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security. Neilsen didn’t discuss details about the phony items found. But police have warned fans about fake tickets being sold.
Although the NFL puts special holograms and other features on tickets that help distinguish real ones from fakes, most people won't be able to tell the difference. Police warn ticket-buyers to purchase only from a reputable source.
As part of the massive security operation, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration conducted low-altitude helicopter flights over downtown Atlanta and areas around Buckhead earlier this week, and those will resume Sunday before the game.
Key law enforcement leaders, including Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields, spoke about security efforts during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Georgia World Congress Center. Shields said security planning for the Super Bowl began over two years ago, and so far everything is going as planned.
Shields encouraged those heading to the game or other Super Bowl events to plan ahead and rely on public transportation. For those who insist on driving, secure valuables ahead of time, she said. Call 911 or alert an officer to anything suspicious. But above all, Shields encouraged fans to have fun.
“This is a fantastic city,” Shields said. “We really want people to come and just have a great time.”