With the 2016 Super Bowl slated to bring throngs of visitors and hospitality workers into the Bay Area, Palo Alto officials on Monday night pledged to address the darker side of the February extravaganza: an influx in human trafficking that the event is expected to generate.
The City Council unanimously adopted on Monday a resolution that was proposed by a memo from Mayor Karen Holman, Councilwoman Liz Kniss and Councilmen Marc Berman and Greg Scharff. The vote commits the city to train staff to identify victims of human trafficking, which according to the resolution, includes people who have been forced into labor, experience commercial sexual exploitation and are subject to involuntary domestic servitude.
The resolution also commits the city to adopting a legislative-advocacy position in support of anti-trafficking measures.
Human trafficking is a crime that "destroys lives around the world," according to the resolution, which also notes that California and constituent communities are considered "receptor sites for trafficking due to economic conditions and proximity to international borders."
Yet despite its devastating effects on victims, the crime often stays under the public radar, the four council members noted in the memo.
"Human trafficking is often overlooked and is an underlying long-term problem in our suburban communities," the memo stated. "Joining in with other jurisdictions to highlight and combat this problem is critical and especially as the holidays and Superbowl 50 are approaching."
Kniss, who took the lead in writing the memo, called human trafficking an "awful" problem, one that "goes on throughout the Peninsula on a regular basis." The council's resolution, she said, puts some resources into addressing the problem. Victims of human trafficking, she said, are often women and children who were runaways.
"It's the kind of thing we don't really think goes on. It actually does," Kniss said.
The memo specifically called out the Super Bowl, she said, because there is "almost no question" that the event will entail the flying in of human-trafficking victims into the area.
Berman said that major events like the Super Bowl are times when "most people are staying in hotels" and when people are most often brought in against their will.
"This is a crime that happens in plain sight and folks won't realize it is happening," Berman said.
The rest of the council agreed, with Vice Mayor Greg Schmid calling the problem of human trafficking "very disturbing."
City Manager James Keene said the city has already taken several steps to address human trafficking. It is participating in the Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force, with a police detective assigned to serve as an ongoing staff liaison with the group.
The Palo Alto Police Department is also working with the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Keene said, to train workers in the hospitality industry to recognize victims of human trafficking and to help victims get the help they need.
Keene said that additional personnel from the police department will receive special training on human trafficking before the Super Bowl. An officer will also be assigned to serve as a liaison with the Super Bowl's command structure, he said.