Alameda County, CA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

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 1.649 million, and the county seat is the city of Oakland. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented throughout the county for decades. While there are areas of affluence, Oakland and other city’s 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 have limited nonprofits’ and community organizations’ ability to secure funding for anti-prostitution initiatives. The county’s location along interstate transportation routes, 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 used information from a massage parlor rating website ( which listed local massage parlors along with menus of sexual services the site said were 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). 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, 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 resulted in 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 may be subject to SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from parts of the city known for commercial sex. 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 in 2012, the OPD reported that over 300 individuals were included in the department’s last SOAP list.

Employment Loss

In 2015 a man was fired as an Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy sheriff after it was discovered that he paid for a sex act at a massage parlor and filed a false police report in 2014. His sex buying was cited as contributing to his termination. A Sheriff’s Department spokesman said the massage parlor incident occurred when the man was off duty, but records showed that soliciting prostitution was considered to be violating rules that require officers to “conduct their private lives in such a manner as to reflect favorably on the agency.” The sex buyer was described as “dishonest” for a story he concocted after his then-wife found credit card charges from a Dublin massage parlor on the family account. A department investigation also found the man’s ex-wife had learned of other instances where he had visited prostituted women, and that he had searched online for massage parlors where sex was available on the website

IT-Based Tactics

In 2016, the Alameda County’s H.E.A.T. Watch began implementing 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 created a decoy online ad and when buyers responded and provided their information, the cyber patrol sent video clips, texts, and links to websites that educated 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 uses technology to disrupt the buying of sex at the point of sale. Functioning as a “highly trained and sophisticated neighborhood watch program,” EPIK provides 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 to advertise prostitution, which results 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 seeks 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, which 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 2016, the Alameda County DA’s Office and the City of Oakland brought 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:

Identity Disclosure:

“Dear John” Letters:

Auto Seizure:

Employment Loss:


Neighborhood Action:

IT-Based Tactics:

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:

State California
Type County
Population 1649000
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