The commander of a task force said the sting that led to the resignation of the University of Alabama’s vice president of student life is part of a strategy to fight human trafficking.
Myron Pope, 50, was one of 15 men arrested Feb. 17-18 on charges of soliciting prostitution during an undercover operation in Northport. After his arrest, Pope resigned as vice president of student life, a post he had held at UA since May 2020.
Capt. Phil Simpson, commander of the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, said the two-day operation was geared toward the suppression of commercial sex buyers.
“If buyers were not seeking commercial sexual services, sex trafficking would no longer be profitable,” Simpson said in a Monday news release.
“We hope these operations targeting buyers show that we take this very seriously. Our goal is to prevent future exploitation of human trafficking victims who are forced or coerced into prostitution,” he said.
Law enforcement officials have said that Tuscaloosa is a prime spot for human traffickers because it’s right along a major interstate and because there’s a market for it.
The West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force was created in November 2018 after Tuscaloosa, Northport and the University of Alabama police departments along with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office reached a mutual aid agreement.
The task force consists of about two dozen officers from agencies across the county. It includes officers with the Tuscaloosa, Northport and University of Alabama police departments, along with assisting agencies and organization such as the Joint Electronic Crimes Task Force, Northport Fire Rescue Service, the University of Alabama’s Institute for Data Analytics and Trafficking Hope.
In addition to working cases, the officers in the unit are committed to educating the public, schoolchildren, hotel workers and owners about human trafficking.
In the Feb. 17-18 operation, the 15 men arranged to meet and pay for sex through an online app, according to the Tuscaloosa Police Department. They were arrested after arriving at the agreed upon location and speaking with an undercover officer.
The task force also conducted an operation on Feb. 5-6 that led to the arrest of 10 men.
UA President Stuart R. Bell announced Pope’s resignation in a Feb. 18 email.
“We understand this news will be difficult for our community,” Bell said. “… Please continue to take care of yourselves and one another.”
Pope, a native of Sweet Water, was a walk-on football player on UA’s 1992 national championship team and earned three degrees from the Capstone.
The vice president of student life oversees a wide variety of services at UA, including fraternity and sorority life, parent and family programs, student governance, the student life leadership team, the UA Student Center, housing and residential communities, student life business services and web development and student media.
UA’s Division of Student Life web page lists Steven Hood as the division’s interim vice president.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism