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By Kate Bradshaw | Almanac Staff Writer
While Menlo Park is not at the epicenter of Super Bowl activity, it's at least on the crossroads, and local police are stepping up vigilance to watch for everything from traffic problems to human trafficking.
Menlo Park plans to double its typical patrol force to about 12 officers during periods of high activity, Police Commander William Dixon said.
He said the department will be especially alert for "unsanctioned gatherings" of large numbers of people, which could happen, if, for instance, a celebrity tweets he or she is at the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel and a large crowd shows up.
He recommends that people take public transportation when available, and plan trips well in advance. People should expect all major traffic corridors to be impacted, he said.
"Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says on its website.
In October 2015, the Menlo Park City Council issued a proclamation supporting regional efforts to increase awareness about human trafficking in advance of the Super Bowl. Menlo Park was one of 15 elected bodies to do so, said Mike Brosnan, human trafficking program coordinator for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.
The Super Bowl can attract large numbers of visitors who may be tempted to misbehave while away from home, including engaging in sex for hire, Mr. Brosnan said.
Menlo Park Councilwoman Catherine Carlton, who worked with the Junior League to co-sponsor anti-human trafficking legislation with state Sen. Jerry Hill, said: "We know it's there. We know it's happening. And we know it follows major sporting events. I've met survivors who have been flown in for that sort of thing."
In 2015, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, California led the nation with 979 reported cases of human trafficking, more than double the number in Texas, the second-highest state.
In addition to sex trafficking, there is labor trafficking, which can take place when businesses get inundated with large crowds, Mr. Brosnan said. He gave an example: A restaurant gets a large catering order that it can't handle and it seeks temporary help from a third party. There's no guarantee, Mr. Brosnan said, that those additional temporary workers want to be there.
Regional efforts to raise awareness have resulted in multi-county training programs to help people who may witness human and labor trafficking to recognize it. The industries and sectors that are most likely to encounter it are hotels and hospitality, transportation and law enforcement, said Mr. Brosnan.
Menlo Park police have received training, as have representatives of at least one Menlo Park hotel, he said.
His advice: If something doesn't look right, report it. Call local law enforcement or make anonymous reports to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.