Smyrna, GA – On February 2, Sheri Kell, Director of Communications for Cobb County, stated that in response to recent news items regarding significant levels of confirmed sex trafficking activity at the Red Roof in Smyrna (2200 Corporate Plaza, Smyrna, GA 30080), the franchise owner has agreed to hire off duty officers to regularly patrol its property.
While this solution sounds great on the surface, in reality, we have never seen such intents make a difference at a hotel in the past. For example, the management of the Fairview Inn off Fulton Industrial Blvd tried the same gesture more than a year ago without success. (This was a hotel that was so rampant at the time one could not film the parking lot in any direction without capturing prostitution on camera,) Here is what happened:
Day One: Officer began his shift in the parking lot. Investigators filmed as he fruitlessly chased women and traffickers all around the property. When he went to the back lot, they moved to the front. When he went to the front, they moved to the back.
Day Two: Officer gave up. Every day thereafter, he simply stood in the parking lot, doing nothing, while traffickers, johns, and women swarmed around him unfettered.
Here are some problems Cobb County is failing to take into account:
- The franchise owner could recruit said officers to only patrol the property at limited times – for example, let’s say early Monday mornings. In this scenario, he would be keeping his word, but to no effect.
- Even if off duty officers are hired to patrol 24/7, is the hotel owner really going to keep paying officers that chase off the hotel’s customers? (Because it’s mostly the traffickers and the girls who are renting the rooms.) No, the owner will use the officers to say he’s doing everything he can, but he will discourage Cobb from supplying officers who harm his business and he will praise and rehire those officers who do nothing.
- Most county-level patrol (not vice, but patrol) officers lack sufficient training with regards to sex trafficking. The unfortunate truth is that when most patrol officers see a prostitute, they are thinking “Poor girl, she doesn’t have any other way to earn a living. Why am I going to harass her and keep her from feeding her kids? Plus, the judge will just get mad at me for flooding their court with these kinds of cases…” However, with better training, patrol officers would instead understand, “There is a 95% chance that girl is being forced to prostitute herself against her will by someone else. I need to find out who that ‘someone else’ is.”
- The franchise owner is complicit. His managers are on video cavorting with the traffickers. This is how he earns his money. He knows it. That is what the other Patels in Atlanta have taught him – “This is how you make your money in a hotel like this.” He knows without traffickers, he would have no income. He’s not going to give that up without a fight.
In order for this location to be truly cleaned up and the girls protected, here is what Cobb County should be doing:
- Conducting undercover investigations with the purpose of confiscating this hotel and others. Sporadic prostitution arrests don’t change anything.
- Subpoena the hotel’s financial & guest registration records. They’re supposed to be recording the I.D. of whoever stays there.
- If the income in their bank accounts does not match up with tax returns (very doubtful it would), ask the IRS or the GA Dept of Revenue to confiscate the property.
- Pressure Corporate Red Roof to pull its franchise or to force a change of ownership.
- Enact ordinances like the Nuisance 19 laws in North Carolina which allow local governments to declare a property a public nuisance without confiscation and hold the owner criminally liable for criminal activity on the property.
- Provide extensive sex trafficking training to patrol officers in this zone.
- Ensure that the insurance company providing coverage on this property is aware of all the arrests, current allegations, and risk of forfeiture.
Local governments shy away from civil forfeiture because they are afraid of the cost of maintaining the property. But what is the life of a girl worth? Are we really going to put money and prosperity ahead of these girls’ freedom? That’s what this hotel owner is doing.
The hotel owner is complicit. Cobb County should not be giving him chances to clean up, they should be going after him and his property.
Nevertheless, we will watch and give this solution a chance to work. However, if these off duty officers fail to make a real impact, rest assured it will be documented.