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Ex-cops lead O.C. volunteers in rescuing prostitutes

Former officers use their police skills and religious faith to help volunteers get women away from their pimps.

October 02, 2013|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

The stocky man with a goatee walks across the darkened parking lot of the motel and bangs on the door to Room 156.

Greg Reese rehearses his lines. The door opens.

The girl inside is wearing black lingerie and looks like she did in the online ad that caught his eye — a teenager using the name Candy Green in a bathtub filled with bubbles. "Ready to have some fun," it promised.

The girl is all business: $100 for a date, she says, standing in the room with bright blue carpeting and crumpled white sheets.

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Reese reaches into the pocket of his tan cargo shorts and pulls out a latex condom. There's a phone number scribbled on one side in black marker. He hands it to her.

He asks if she sees the phone number.

She examines the packet but ignores the question. She presses him for the money.

"I'm not really here for a date," Reese says. "I'm here to offer you help."

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For 20 years, Reese, 43, patrolled the streets of Huntington Beach. As a police officer, he ran into his share of prostitutes. In his mind, the women were lowlifes who were selling their bodies. He remembered one who had been beaten up by a customer.

"I took the report," he said. "But I didn't have any compassion for her."

On a Sunday at church, he heard a woman give a sermon about prostitution and human trafficking. Modern-day slavery, the woman called it. Reese, who retired from the force in 2011 because of a back injury, was shocked.

"When you talk about human trafficking, everyone thinks about Third World countries," he said.

Before long, he met Kevin Brown, a retired Santa Ana police officer turned pastor. Brown had gathered a Christian group of volunteers now called Safe Passage OC to conduct unofficial stings to "liberate" women and minors from a life of servitude.

For Reese, who had started a private investigation firm, Brown's work seemed like a calling from above.

"I feel like God was opening doors left and right ... that's what he wanted me to do."

When Brown invited Reese to come out with the group, he didn't know what to expect. Was it going to be a bunch of renegade do-gooders? But once he joined, he saw the missions as undercover police operations — with a dash of prayer.

Reese was once again patrolling the same streets he worked as an officer. This time around, though, his purpose wasn't to arrest the bad guys. It was to help people in trouble.

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