CLEARWATER — The city council is expected tonight to approve requests for $87,000 to fund human trafficking investigations and $57,500 to settle a traffic accident claim. Here’s a look at both expenditure requests.
Feds nix grants for human trafficking probes
The U. S. Department of Justice no longer will subsidize the city’s human trafficking task force, Police Chief Anthony Holloway said. In place since 2006, the task force returned each year through a justice department grant.
The task force’s goal is to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking.
Federal authorities have identified Clearwater as one of the top three locations for human trafficking and the city’s task force as one of the most successful in the nation.
To cover expenses associated with “these long-term and complex investigations” and continue the heightened focus, the police chief requested $87,000 for the current fiscal year.
“These funds will be closely monitored by me,” he told the council at its work session this week.
Since the task force’s inception, police have conducted hundreds of criminal investigations resulting in 33 confirmed adult human trafficking victims, 42 confirmed juvenile victims and 161 arrests, the chief said.
Just last week, Clearwater police arrested 35 men during a four-day, multiagency online sting dubbed “Operation Home Alone,” which targeted adults trying to have sex with children. Twelve investigators went undercover.
“It’s still not over,” Holloway said Monday. “Just two hours ago we arrested two more.”
The city’s task force was part of a documentary, “Too Close To Home,” which looked at the problem of human trafficking in the Tampa Bay area. It premiered last September on WEDU. Watch it online at www.wedu.org/humantrafficking.
Council agrees to settlement in traffic wreck
Before the board gave an initial nod to using $57,500 from its Central Insurance Fund to settle a traffic accident claim involving a public utilities worker, Mayor George Cretekos urged city employees to slow down and obey driving laws.
On Sept. 4, Jameel Zabadi was turning left in a city truck onto northbound Hercules Avenue from Gilbert Street when he failed to see an oncoming driver traveling south on Hercules, according to Wayne Barker, risk management specialist for the city’s Finance Department.
According to public communications director Joelle Castelli, Zabadi, who has the claim against the city, sustained injuries and was off the clock at the time of the accident.
Zabadi told police he didn’t see the other driver heading south because another service truck southbound on Hercules obstructed his vision.
Barker told the council that police didn’t charge the city worker in the wreck.
“I hope that we explain to our employees … that they don’t have to rush to get somewhere if they’re not responding to an emergency,” Cretekos said. “… We’ve been fortunate that we’re only talking about an accident — the loss of property and not the loss of life.”
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said, “In addition to monetary damages, this individual (the other driver) was hurt … (receiving) serious injuries from wanton carelessness.”
The case remains open and subject to ongoing litigation, according to Castelli.
The city council meets tonight at 6 in its chambers in city hall, 112 S. Osceola Ave.