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West Allis police assist in FBI nationwide prostitution bust

WEST ALLIS -- A three-day, nationwide law enforcement action known as "Operation Cross Country"led to the recovery of 80 children who officials say were being exploited through prostitution. Seven of those children were recovered in Milwaukee.

"Operation Cross Country" involved hundreds of FBI special agents with thousands of local police officers, deputy sheriffs, state troopers and other law enforcement personnel throughout the U.S. this past seven days.

Milwaukee-area officials, including authorities from Milwaukee, West Allis and Oak Creek made a total of 63 arrests -- most of the suspects caught in the area between South 6th and 35th Streets, bordered by National and Lincoln.

West Allis Police Captain Chris Botsch says about a dozen officers from his department were part of the effort Thursday, June 21st and Friday, June 22nd. Botsch said unlike the busts on Milwaukee's streets near areas like 6th and National, the arrests by West Allis officials began in a less public manner.

"This is the first time we've had the opportunity to work with the FBI for prostitution specifically. We primarily targeted some of the internet sites," Botsch said.

Through computers, investigators spotted ads, set up meetings, and when the prostitute arrived, rather than seeing a client, she saw an officer.

West Allis officials arrested nine individuals for prostitution. Botsch said he hopes those arrested will lead law enforcement to the pimps overseeing the criminal commerce.

Carmen Pitre with Sojourner Family Peace Center said the enforcement through programs like "Operation Cross Country" will help bring accountability, but it's not a total solution.

"I see these young girls as having no options. It's part of the answer -- I think we have to prioritize getting to younger people and families earlier," Pitre said.

Pitre said many are involved in prostitution for survival, and are some of the most fragile in the community.

The FBI reported Milwaukee had the highest total of juveniles arrested in the nation during the operation -- a total of seven. Pitre said that number is a call to action.

"The fact that we had more kids here, means we have more kids that are vulnerable and need our help," Pitre said.

Pitre says families at risk need to utilize social service programs before law enforcement becomes involved.

West Allis police officials call the operation a success, and say they believe there will be another one like it in the future.

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