|IT Based Tactics||✓|
Albert Lea is a city of approximately 18,000 residents, located at the juncture of Interstates 35 and 90 in southeastern Minnesota’s Freeborn County, south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and surrounding areas. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking.
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. In August 2014, the Albert Lea Police Department and South Central Drug Investigative Unit (a regional task force) conducted a web-based reverse sting that resulted in the arrest of three johns. Officers placed a decoy advertisement online; arrests were made after men responded and arranged to meet with the undercover officer who placed the listing. Following the operation, the ALPD released the name and arrest photo of each of the offenders. When asked about the impetus for the operation, law enforcement reported it was conducted “in support of sex trafficking prevention” and added that “the City of Albert Lea and Freeborn County are not good choices for conducting this type of criminal activity; it will not be tolerated here.”
In late February and early April 2015, SCDIU officers announced the completion of two additional reverse stings in Albert Lea. The first operation, conducted on February 19th, netted two sex buyers; eight more men were arrested in a second reversal on April 7th. A similar operation was conducted by SCDIU officers in nearby Owatonna in mid-March. Although logistical details about the operations were not disclosed to the public, law enforcement reported that they had received the support and cooperation of several local hotels when conducting their investigations. Following the stings, media outlets publicized the identities of all of the individuals arrested, and noted that the “April 7th operation was conducted in partnership with the Rochester Police Street Crimes Unit, [and] served as a training exercise [for law enforcement] on investigative techniques to combat human trafficking and related sex crimes. The training opportunity was partially funded by a state grant received by the Southeast Minnesota Safe Harbor Regional Navigator’s Office.”
In December, 2016, police in Albert Lea arrested three men for soliciting prostitution. One was arrested on a felony charge of engaging a minor in prostitution; two others were arrested on a gross misdemeanor charge of prostitution in a public place (hiring an individual 18 years of age or older for prostitution). In September, 2018, Albert Lea police arrested four men for soliciting prostitution during a web-based reverse sting, conducted in support of sex-trafficking prevention. The sweep, conducted with the South Central Drug Investigative Unit Violent Crimes Task Force, resulted in arrests on charges of “soliciting prostitution in a public place,” a gross misdemeanor, and additional charges included possession of methamphetamine and other drugs. The Albert Lea Police Department police put an advertisement online, and the arrests came from people who responded to the ad. The men not only responded to the ad but actually made arrangements and came to meet an undercover officer. There were others who also responded to the ad but did not actually come to meet: “Our phone was ringing nonstop with these people, texting back and forth. Obviously there’s a demand for this.”
On at least one occasion, offenders arrested for soliciting prostitution have been given a diversion option that includes participation in a “John School” program. In 2016, the Freeborn County District Court issued an agreement with a 52 year old sex buyer guilty of “prostitution – patron hires/offers/agrees to hire 18-years-old or older.” He was given a 90 day suspended sentence based upon his completing one year of supervised probation and completing a john school, and paying fees of $250.
- Albert Lea Police Department
- Freeborn County District Court
- South Central Drug Investigative Unit (regional task force)
- Owatonna Police Department
- Albert Lea Police Department
- Waseca County Sheriff’s Office
- Faribault County Sheriff’s Office
- Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office
- Steele County Sheriff’s Office
- Blooming Prairie Police Department
- Waseca Police Department
- Janesville Police Department
- Blue Earth Police Department
- Wells Police Department
- Winnebago Police Department
- Southeast Minnesota Safe Harbor Regional Navigator’s Office
- Rochester Police Department
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “‘Johns’ Arrested in Freeborn County”, CBS/KIMT-TV 3, August 7 2014.
- “Prostitution Bust Made in Albert Lea; Janesville Man among Those Arrested”, Waseca County News, August 8 2014.
- https://www.southernminn.com/prostitution-bust-made-in-albert-lea-men-arrested (2018)
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “20 Arrested in Owatonna, Albert Lea Sex Trafficking Stings,” ABC/KSTP-TV 5, April 17 2015.
- “20 People Arrested in Human Trafficking and Sex Crime Bust,” CBS/KIMT-TV 3, April 17 2015.
- “20 People Arrested in Undercover Human Trafficking Operation,” ABC/KAAL-TV 6, April 17 2015.
- “3 North Iowans Arrested in Minnesota Sex Crimes Sting,” Mason City Globe Gazette, April 18 2015.
- “4 Mower Residents Arrested in Sex Crimes Stings,” Austin Daily Herald, April 18 2015.
- “20 Arrested in Undercover Prostitution Sting in Owatonna, Albert Lea,” Albert Lea Tribune, April 20 2015.
- “Waseca Man among Those Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Waseca County News, April 20 2015.
- https://www.cbsnews.com/3-arrested-in-albert-lea-accused-of-soliciting-prostitution/ (2016)
- https://northiowatoday.com/sheffield-man-guilty-in-prostitution-sting-in-albert-lea/ (2017)
Background on Local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking: