Craig Friesen decided to cut off the head of the snake.
A sergeant with the Anaheim Police Department, the south Orange County man directs the agency’s vice squad and rethought street level prostitution and came to a conclusion.
Pimps don’t have to rule the street.
The resultant attitude change has affected for the better a number of women, some as young as 14, and reshaped the boulevard’s landscape.
For his work, Friesen is among six finalists in "America’s Most Wanted" All-Star contest, an online voting event that honors the work of first responders.
The winner will receive a $10,000 prize. Fans can vote at AMW.com/AllStar.
"We started looking at it like a narcotics problem," said the former narcotics officer. "If you only arrest people who are buying instead of supplying, you never break the chain. The dealers run amok and are never prosecuted. A pimp will normally have three to five girls working for him at a given time. If we can arrest one pimp, we can affect three to five women so that he's no longer in control of their lives.
"It changed from arresting a girl, giving her a ticket, and sending her back to the pimp she was working for."
This new approach to counteract street level prostitution got the attention of “America’s Most Wanted,” the television show that shares stories that generates leads to catch real-life criminals. Friesen and his five investigators, part of the O.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, believe what they're doing and this change in philosophy will be standard practice across the state within five years.
"The results that we're getting now shows that it works," he said. "We target pimps and prostitutes of all ages, but primarily our goal is to help juvenile prostitutes. I've never met anyone who wakes up and says, 'I want to be a prostitute.'
An 18-year veteran with the department, Friesen equates pimping to being a slave owner, and though they become the "support group" for the working girls, he says that's giving the pimps too much credit.
"They sit back and reap all the benefits," he said. "The girls do all the work and ... are at the whim of the pimp and what he wants to give them by way of shelter, food, clothing. They're taking advantage of these girls who come from broken or drug addicted homes and they prey on these girls and promise them a lavish lifestyle, and give it to them for a couple of weeks. Then they pretend the money's gone."
He said pimps circulate the women through a west coast circuit, but keep them away from where the women might run into or reach out to friends or family. The circuit is Anaheim/O.C., Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland/Alameda, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
"It's about cutting down the draw on police services and sending a message that Anaheim is not a place where you want to bring girls to prostitute because you're going to jail for it," he said.
Friesen became supervisor of the vice unit in late 2010 when he was challenged with addressing Anaheim’s street prostitution.
With girls, some barely in their teens, engaged in turning tricks for a profit—primarily for the pimps that oversee the trade like a business—Friesen tapped into the root of the issue.
Friesen credits members of his team of five investigators with helping the concept evolve. They figured that the women have little or no support in their lives and are led to believe that they need their pimp’s protection. That's the attitude the vice unit wanted to change.
Two full-time victim advocates engage victims separately from the police to get the girls into job and social skill training programs that will help them.
The Anaheim Police Department has arrested more than 25 pimps and helped more than 50 women over the last year. Late in 2011, the testimony of a young prostitute helped convict her pimp to a lifetime sentence.
That was the case that made Friesen think the pimps had to go to jail.
"We came into contact with a girl on Beach Boulevard that was strangled, had her eye socket fractured, and was burnt by a curling iron on her leg," Friesen said. "During the interview with her we came to the point where we said, 'This pimp is someone who has to go to jail.'
"Looking at her in the eye, no one can say that prostitution is a victimless crime."
And that means that Friesen and his crew will go anywhere to get the message across that if you pimp in Anaheim, you'll do time. Earlier this week he went to Stockton to make an arrest in an Anaheim case.
Friesen serves as co-director of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, and was recently presented with a 2012 Victim Service Award from the Community Services Program at a Victims Rights Conference.
"We check our egos at the door and everyone works together," Friesen said. "It's about doing the best thing for the victim."
Friesen was recently presented with a 2012 Victim Service Award from the Community Services Program at a Victims Rights Conference. He serves as co-director of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
The public will choose the grand-prize winner of the AMW All-Star contest; voting continues through May 5. Fans can vote once a day. Later in the month, series host John Walsh will present the winner with a $10,000 check in Washington D.C. The winner willl also receive a trip to NASCAR’s All-Star Challenge at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 19.
Friesen said if he wins, he will donate half the money to the advocacy group that works with his unit, the other half to the Cody Waters Foundation to benefit pediatric cancer research.
"Me and my team," Friesen said, "didn't think it was right to take money for what we're getting paid to do already."