Alameda County, CA

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Alameda County is included in the San Francisco Bay Area, occupying much of the East Bay region in Northern California. The county’s population is about 1,671,000, and the county seat is the city of Oakland, CA. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented throughout the county for decades. While there are areas of affluence, Oakland and other cities economies have struggled, creating the conditions for prostitution and sex trafficking to flourish. Budget cuts have also forced law enforcement to triage available resources and limited nonprofit and community organization ability to secure funding for anti-prostitution initiatives. The county’s location along interstate transportation routes, its hosting a major seaport, and proximity to San Francisco has spurred the expansion of its commercial sex market. The presence of street gangs and an active drug trafficking market have further complicated the issue. Since the passage of California’s anti-trafficking law in 2006, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted more than 600 human traffickers for cases mostly involving young women and minors as victims.

Prostituted women and girls have been targeted in homicides, and at least one serial killer of prostituted persons was active in the city of Oakland. Other cities in Alameda County have had similar problems, at a smaller scale. For example, in 2005 there were reports of widespread internet-based prostitution and sex trafficking in Pleasanton and nearby towns, and in 2006 the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and the Pleasanton Police Department conducted a web-based prostitution investigation that resulted in the arrest of 13 individuals. In 2010, officers in Hayward found two teenagers being sexually exploited and arrested 15 adults, including three who faced pimping/sex trafficking charges. In 2012 and 2013, police ran several operations to combat prostitution in massage parlors that advertised online: e.g., police in the Tri-Valley use information from a massage parlor rating website (rubmaps.com) which listed local massage parlors along with menus of sexual services the site says are provided in addition to massages by some of the masseuses. Pleasanton had the highest number of parlors listed in the Tri-Valley with 12, followed by Dublin (9), San Ramon (8), and Danville and Livermore (3 each), and local police officials said they were aware of that site along with several other similar websites.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and other local police departments have collaborated with each other to conduct reverse sting operations. For example, the Hayward Police Department has partnered several times with police in neighboring communities (such as the Newark, Emeryville, Oakland and Berkeley Police Departments) and the county, as well as with agents from the Southern Alameda County Major Crimes Task Force and the FBI, to conduct street-level reverse stings designed to apprehend sex buyers. The Hayward Police, in partnership with the Alameda District Attorney’s Office and Alameda County Vice Enforcement Team had arrested 11 male sex buyers between January 15, 2015 and February 1, 2015. In May, 2018, 11 people were arrested in Pleasanton during a web-based reverse sting, with Livermore and Hayward police helping in the sting. In July, 2019, East Bay authorities arrested 45 suspected sex buyers and two suspected sex traffickers during an operation that netted more than 500 arrests nationwide. In the East Bay, the arrests were the result of four covert operations, by Oakland and Hayward police and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office units. In addition, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has also collaborated with municipal police to deploy other demand reduction tactics such as capturing video evidence from street cameras and enforcing auto seizures.

The Oakland Police Department began conducting street-level reverse stings in the mid-1970s. In 1997, the Oakland PD began seizing male sex buyers’ cars to curb a reported increase in “commuter criminal” arrests (e.g. suburban men who enter Oakland with the principle intent of patronizing a prostituted woman). Utilizing a city ordinance, officers began confiscating the vehicles of individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses. Offenders were issued a “receipt”, and given 10 days to appeal the seizure in Alameda County’s Superior Court. Those who were not granted an appeal permanently forfeited the vehicle to the county. Between 1997 and 1999, the Oakland City District Attorney reported that the city had seized and impounded a total of 350 vehicles, over 60% of which belonged to out-of-towners. While the majority of offenders were reportedly able to recover their vehicles following appeal, the majority were forced to pay the city an average of 20% of the car’s value, plus towing and storage fees.

In July 2007, the California Supreme Court ruled that city seizure ordinances violated preexisting state law. The ruling does not prevent police from towing vehicles used for solicitation, however, as such towing(s) “are covered under the state’s Vehicle Code.”

Geographic Exclusion Zones (SOAP Orders)

Once convicted of solicitation, an Oakland sex buyer will be subject to SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from parts of the city known for commercial sex sales. A convicted sex buyer must avoid these areas, dubbed geographic exclusion zones, unless it is understood and agreed that he has a legal right to be there (e.g., his place of business is there). In these instances, an offender may be permitted in the vicinity during hours appropriate to his/her legal right (e.g., 9AM-5PM).  To ensure that geographic exclusion zones are enforced, the OPD produces an updated list of all offenders currently subject to SOAP orders and distributes them to city police on a monthly basis. If officers see a convicted male sex buyer in an exclusion area, they may pull up an electronic version of the current list using MDTs in police cars. While most patrol officers know the “key players” on their beat, the list includes arrest photos that may be scanned and sorted by geographic area. When contacted for the National Assessment, the OPD reported that over 300 individuals were included in the department’s last SOAP list.

IT Based Tactic:

In 2016, the Alameda County’s H.E.A.T. Watch began implemented citizen cyber patrols. These types of patrols are a citizen-led variation on the web-based reverse sting where male citizens organize cyber patrols and use their technological abilities to prevent buying before law enforcement gets involved. The citizen-activists create a decoy online ad and when buyers respond and provide their information, the cyber patrol sends video clips, texts, and links to websites that educate the prospective buyer about the negative consequences of his actions. Sometimes the cyber activists participate in a scripted phone call with the prospective sex buyer. Cyber patrols in Alameda County are made possible through law enforcement’s collaboration with the EPIK Project. EPIK was founded in 2012 in response to the heinous reality of sex trafficking in the United States and use technology to disrupt the buying of sex at the point of sale. Functioning as a “highly trained and sophisticated neighborhood watch program”, EPIK provide law enforcement with specific information related to the illegal activity of prostitution and sex trafficking. EPIK seeks to mobilize male allies to disrupt the commercial sex market by equipping them to confront the roots of exploitation and encouraging them to effectively collaborate within the broader anti-trafficking movement. EPIK has been implemented in California’s Alameda County’s H.E.A.T Watch, a five-point program designed to combat sex trafficking. Law enforcement officials use a decoy website advertising for-purchase sex which result in the site getting between 15,000 and 40,000 views a month. This translates into 3,000 to 5,000 clicks a month. The site collects potential sex buyers’ IP addresses, and alerts them of both the illegality of their actions and the fact that the DA’s office prosecutes sex buyers. In some instances, the decoy site connects the potential sex buyer to an EPIK Project volunteer. Additionally, Operation Big Sister, a nonprofit organization based in Iceland, has proposed a similar concept to that of EPIK, but seek to enable anyone, anywhere in the world with internet access, to be “a Big Sister.” The city of Oakland and Alameda County offered to be the platform’s test pilot sites for the project.

In 2016, the Alameda County CEASE Network (Northern California CEASE Network) and the City of Oakland, in partnership with local volunteers, created an online tool called Report John, that allows individuals to report the license plate numbers of cars pulling over on streets that are synonymous with sex buying. The initiative grew out of a grassroots movement started by the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), an Oakland-based community-building nonprofit that works with youth in low-income neighborhoods. Many of the nonprofit’s clients didn’t feel comfortable reporting sex buyers directly to the police; therefore, the center became an intermediary, forwarding reports of suspected sex buying to law enforcement officials. To ensure that all reporters remained anonymous, in September of 2016, the Alameda County DA’s Office and the City of Oakland brought ReportJohn.org online. When a report is made, information is shared with the lieutenant of Oakland Police’s Vice/Child Exploitation Unit, where it’s cross-referenced to a database.

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Shaming:

“Dear John” Letters:

Auto Seizure:

Cameras:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

IT Based Tactic:

State California
Type County
Population 1671000
Location
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