SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — An award event for Human Trafficking Day turned into a political slam-fest by the head of the Department of Homeland Security’s San Francisco bureau.
Ryan Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security in San Francisco, told local leaders at the event to stop putting politics ahead of public safety.
Spradlin, the local head of DHS, was on hand at the ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday to honor people who work on combating human trafficking.
He took the opportunity to tell the audience that countering human trafficking means respecting his agency.
“Community and political leaders must remember – they represent those that are being victimized. And encouraging local law enforcement communities or anyone else to shut HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] out for political purposes only enables the criminals to continue growing their fortunes,” Spradlin said.
Spradlin’s agency is the lead on all transnational federal investigations, that includes trafficking cases.
But he says his agency is being demonized and that that is hurting public safety.
In August of last year, HSI executed a search warrant in Oakland, on a human trafficking case.
They requested support from the Oakland police to control traffic, and the police did. HSI only arrested one person, who still has not been charged with anything. But that person is undocumented and was referred to immigration authorities for removal.
After that 2017 incident, Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said, “And I’m here to say, if you’re coming after my neighbor, you’re coming after me. And I won’t back down to ICE’s threats against our community.”
Many community leaders were livid, and the Oakland City Council is now moving to prevent all cooperation between police and DHS.
Spradlin says this is bad for public safety.
“When Homeland Security Investigations agents and the work they do gets disparaged, you’re not helping the community be safer,” he said.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon says it’s complicated because the HSI and immigration enforcement are under the same umbrella.
“I think that there is certainly an investigative arm of Homeland Security that does a lot of good work around human trafficking, and around many other areas. I think that the problem comes when they mix immigration enforcement with their other work,” Gascon said.
We asked for an example of an investigation that has been impeded by uncooperative local law enforcement; he couldn’t name one.
The issue, it seems, is more personal for HSI agents.
“They’re out there risking their lives,” Spradlin said. “They’re out there trying to do the right thing and we’re tired of hearing criticism over it. So that’s basically what it boils down to.”