COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with state and local agencies for Operation BRIDGE, or Bridging Recovery and Interdiction Gathering Enforcement. It was a four day sting aimed at connecting women in sex work to treatment and support.
On Tuesday, Sheriff’s Office deputies were tasked with bringing in sex workers. But the women were not arrested or faced with new charges, instead they were offered help in the form of rehab, new clothes, food and more resources. Deputies drove around the Hilltop and Franklinton areas searching for women they believed could be helped by the medical, mental health and faith-based services provided.
“Generally, individuals who engage in prostitution are doing so to feed their drug habit,” said Sgt. Jeff Zech with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. “The goal today is to find those individuals and instead of simply arresting and taking them to jail and being done with it, the goal is to actually get them to resources and treatment.”
They were offered treatment options for addiction recovery along with food, feminine hygiene products and clean clothes. In previous stings, Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said his deputies were focused on arresting as many sex workers as possible, but Operation BRIDGE was different.
“The goal is to interrupt the activity going on. People who find themselves involved, in today specifically prostitution related offenses, is to try to help people make contact with them and help them break the cycle of what they’re doing,” said the sheriff. Hundreds of sex workers and other people in need of help were able to make contact with the resources provided and some even committed to addiction help on the spot.
“We were able to get them into treatment immediately, whether it was inpatient or outpatient and as of this morning people have already called us and thanked us for the efforts that we made because it was more personal to them,” said Keri Bull, a crisis intervention specialist who was a part of the operation.
The goal was to get as many people to helpful resources as possible. At a news conference Friday morning, those involved with the operation said they accomplished that goal. “Anybody’s life that is able to be changed by whatever we do, one life is worth it all to us,” said Bull.
The Sheriff’s Office said Operation BRIDGE was a success. Deputies made contact with 277 people, 74 of them made follow-up appointments and 19 went immediately into treatment.