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Continuing to put stepped-up pressure on human traffickers, pimps and the “johns” who bolster their illicit business, the Los Angeles Police Department Operations Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force celebrated another uptick in arrests and enforcement last year during a Thursday news conference. And San Fernando Valley residents say their efforts are truly making a difference.

Officials on released 2017 statistics from the Operations-Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force, which included the arrests of 755 “johns,” as well as the arrests of 25 other suspects accused of pimping and pandering in the area. Nine more were accused of human trafficking, officials said.

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Officials also celebrated that 12 victims of human trafficking were rescued – with 94 more victims referred to people and organizations who can help them.

Thursday’s event included law enforcement officials, community members and L.A. Councilwoman Nury Martinez, whose district includes Van Nuys and Panorama City.

“It’s huge,” said Alicia Quezada, who works in Van Nuys and lives in Sun Valley, applauding the enforcement efforts. “You don’t see the girls out here as much. You would see girls out here 24/7. It didn’t matter what time it was.”

Officers also issued 4,402 traffic citations and impounded 59 vehicles, officials said.

In 2016, the task force had made more than 500 arrests, issued more than 3,000 citations and rescued 10 victims in the Lankershim, San Fernando and Sepulveda corridors.

More images before #VanNuys #LAPD news conference on human trafficking task force enforcement this morning off Sepulveda Boulevard pic.twitter.com/P71Zvtnk6W

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— Wes Woods II (@JournoWes) February 1, 2018

“The task force’s daily mission is to go after the pimps and the johns and help get them behind bars,” said Martinez, who successfully lobbied for $1 million in funding last year – and another $1 million this year. “But more important to me is the number of victims that have been rescued. And thanks to the task force, these women and girls are now free.”

In #VanNuys #LA Councilwoman Nury Martinez gives rundown of human trafficking task force operation numbers from 2017 pic.twitter.com/hxSjj4QkuU

— Wes Woods II (@JournoWes) February 1, 2018

“We’re focusing on the success of a program that’s on the street to arrest people,” said L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, who also lauded the team’s prostitution-diversion program, which he said is changing lives daily.

Van Nuys resident Ana Maria Pacheco, age 52, thanked the officers for their efforts. “It’s been improving – yes, for sure,” Pacheco said of improvements to the area. “We have to protect the children and I am glad they are taking care of that.”

LAPD Lt. Marc Evans, officer-in-charge for the Operations Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force, acknowledged there is more work to do.

“The message we want to get across today is we want to help business flourish,” Evans said, “but conversely we want them to run a good business, a healthy business and be on the up-and-up and not facilitate crime in these neighborhoods.”

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