ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force is launching a mobile app to help locate victims and catch suspects.
With Florida being among the states with the highest number of human trafficking cases, officials are trying new tactics to stop exploitation.
Funds from a federal grant helped form the task force back In January. Since then, it has opened about 100 new cases, arrested more than two dozen suspects, and rescued about 79 victims.
Many of the cases start with a detective responding to an online advertisement. Those detectives hope the new app will give victims and tipsters an easy way to reach out for help.
"We wanted to make sure our victims had a way to contact us," St. Pete police chief Anthony Holloway said.
The app is called "Tampa Bay Human Trafficking TF" and it's available on most smartphones. Users can submit tips about possible sightings of human trafficking by adding a location and a photo.
"You can talk to a detective 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will come and rescue you or we will find out where you are and how to get someone there," Holloway said.
The app comes nearly one year after the U.S. Department of Justice awarded St. Pete PD a $741,000 grant to form the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force. It's made up of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as well as 11 area police departments and six sheriff's offices.
"We need your help in helping identify the victims of human trafficking. We need your help on identifying the people who are actually holding these men and women in their custody," Holloway said.
According to this year's annual human trafficking report from the Florida Department of Children and Families, numbers are slightly down from last year's report. That's when they saw more than 2,100 tips come into the hotline compared to the 1,900 they saw this year.
"For the suspects still out there, we are still looking for you and we're coming for you," Holloway said.