Oakland officials, CA lawmaker to meet over alleged sex workers regularly seen near school

Stephanie Sierra Image
Friday, February 10, 2023
Oakland officials, lawmaker to discuss alleged sex workers near school
Oakland officials to meet with California state Senator Scott Wiener after alleged sex workers regularly seen near St. Anthony's Catholic school.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- City officials and a state lawmaker have agreed to meet to discuss possible legislative changes that will address concerns about young sex workers and human trafficking operations across the street from a K-8 grade school, following an I-Team investigation.

A parent meeting was held at St. Anthony's Catholic school Thursday to discuss new ways to enhance security protocols. This comes after video captured young women who appeared to be sex workers soliciting in front of the school gate.

"The little kids, they watch everything," said Ricardo Vindiola, who owns a local tire shop down the street from the school.

"At night time, you see 20 ladies over there."

RELATED: Video showing alleged sex workers soliciting outside East Oakland school sparks call for action

Video showing alleged sex workers soliciting right outside St. Anthony's in East Oakland is raising concerns about human trafficking in the area.

Vindiola told the I-Team more police patrols have been present since the initial story aired last week, but says it won't be enough.

"It's sad for the community because all we can do is just close our eyes," he said. "You can't say nothing, you call the police, they come... but the pimps watch everything."

Vindiola has lived and worked in the neighborhood for 30 years. He says organized crime with pimps and gangs trafficking young women has gotten significantly worse over the past year. It's not just because the problem is visibly closer to home, but the danger that comes with it.

"In the past year, I've seen a lot of young women die, the young men die, and nobody does nothing," he said.

Several law enforcement sources told the I-Team there's been a noticeable increase in gun violence in the neighborhood around east 15th Street - shootings believed to be tied to trafficking operations. A fear that resonates with Rosa Vargas, who drives her 5-year-old to school each day.

"We need the city to take action," Vargas told the I-Team last week.

Since then, the Oakland Police Department and the FBI enhanced patrols and installed new surveillance cameras in the area. The city's mayor also committed to taking further action.

"I'm shocked, as a mom this really disturbs me," Mayor Sheng Thao said during a live ABC7 broadcast Wednesday. "We're going to be installing diverters, street signs, and similar steps to make sure cars can't come in and sit in the streets... exploiters can't just sit in the middle of the street."

VIDEO: Oakland police, FBI take action to assess trafficking concerns near school after I-Team report

Oakland officials say city will enhance patrols and install new cameras after I-Team's report revealed possible human trafficking outside a school.

But, the community knows it will take more than street signs and enhanced patrols to see change in the neighborhood.

According to data obtained by the I-Team, Oakland police investigated 43 operations that involved human trafficking and prostitution last year. 95 percent of those operations took place along E. 15th Street or had a direct tie to the area. Eight juveniles were rescued in 2022. This year, at least two juveniles have been rescued in this neighborhood just over the past two weeks.

Deputy Chief James Beere led those investigations. He's seen firsthand how the problem is getting worse.

"We saw it here tonight," he said referring to several young women soliciting outside St. Anthony's church before a vigil was held to raise awareness against sex trafficking Tuesday night.

"One of the young ladies came back walking towards the church exposing her private parts, and as I got closer I suspected she was underage," Beere said. "She was 15 years old."

Police say the young girl was rescued, not arrested.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of this issue," Beere said.

RELATED: SF residents say this street has turned into 'Las Vegas Strip' with alleged sex workers - EXCLUSIVE

"It's like every night pimps and prostitutes come and take our street hostage and neighbors are shut in." Here's what a group of San Francisco residents witness on a nightly basis.

Last year, police made 169 prostitution-related arrests but say only five cases were prosecuted. OPD expects that number to be far less this year because of a new law that went into effect in January prohibiting officers from approaching an individual loitering without proof of solicitation - even if they're scantily dressed walking in front of a school.

Vargas still sees it every day.

She took another photo Thursday morning of a young girl wearing no pants walking across from the school gate as she dropped off her five-year-old at school. Again, telling her daughter to look away.

"I don't want to see this anymore," she told us on the phone. "A police officer was present but what can they do? Does the law need to change?"

"We're ready to meet with him to go over that," said Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo.

"Would you be willing to meet with law enforcement to discuss this?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked State Sen. Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation to help protect transgender women who he found were being unfairly targeted by police.

"Yes, of course, my door is always open," Sen. Wiener said.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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