BREEZY POINT - Area law enforcement agencies' focus on sex trafficking has shifted to the north.

The Breezy Point Police Department announced Monday the arrests of two men at a Breezy Point area hotel for soliciting prostitution in a public place as a result of a law enforcement operation.

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Working in coordination with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and the Brainerd, Baxter and Pequot Lakes police departments, the operation was conducted Tuesday, Oct. 13, and involved a fictional advertisement for escort services on an online classified advertising website.

"The (Breezy Point police) department recognizes that all of Minnesota is plagued by the exploitation of people and small towns are susceptible to this as well as large cities," a news release states. "This activity leads to additional crimes and victims who are scarred for life."

Reports are being forwarded to the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office for possible gross misdemeanor charges and names have not been released, pending formal criminal complaints.

This is the fourth sex trafficking operation conducted by area law enforcement in Crow Wing County since May, and the first outside of Baxter. The two men arrested in the latest sting join 14 others charged in the other three operations.

Local focus on combatting sex trafficking among law enforcement and victim advocates alike comes as pressure increases statewide - and nationwide - on the issue. In an interview last month, Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said reduction of demand for paid sex is at the crux of local law enforcement stings, although the broader goal includes identifying the traffickers feeding that demand.

"We'll continue to work the solicitation angle with the johns, and continue to work on trying to root out the traffickers and get them charged as well. We've known right from the start that that would be difficult and time consuming," Exsted said.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.