Albuquerque, NM

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Albuquerque has well-documented problems with prostitution and sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking and prostitution-related homicide.  At least two serial killers who specifically target prostituted women have operated in the city.

To combat the array of problems stemming from commercial sex, police have been conducting periodic reverse stings since at least 1980, and perhaps longer.  The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) does not use shaming tactics (i.e., releasing the identities of men arrested in reverse stings), nor do they seize autos or apply any post-arrest punishment aside from a $200 fine and up to one day in jail while they are being processed and posting bail.  APD began conducting internet-based reversals in 2005.  One operation focused on prostitution at the annual New Mexico State Fair, which arrested dozens of prostituted women and at least six sex buyers.

In the 1990s, persistent prostitution and sex trafficking problems spurred the formation of neighborhood-led efforts, some of which targeted the demand for commercial sex.  In 2010, community groups (such as RELEASE) began investigating anti-demand tactics, particularly whether the john school model could be employed in Albuquerque.  Investigation is still underway, but a john school does not appear to be in the foreseeable future.

Auto Seizure

In mid-September 2013, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and other city officials, in addition to community advocates (e.g., RELEASE) presented a proposal for the city to adopt an ordinance that would enable APD officers to seize vehicles used for the purposes of prostitution. The ordinance allows police to seize and hold the vehicles of arrested sex buyers for 30 days for a first offense, and a year for a second offense. In November 2013, the ordinance passed through a city council vote, 8 to 1.

A vehicle may be subject to seizure or forfeiture if its driver or passenger has been arrested for prostitution, patronizing prostituted persons, promoting prostitution, or accepting the earnings of a prostituted person.  The ordinance is intended to be used to seize the vehicles of pimps or johns when the vehicle is used in the course of the crime.

The one dissenting voter raised questions about people wrongly accused of a crime and the possibility of someone losing their car if a family member borrows it without their knowledge.  In response, it was noted that the ordinance has an “innocent owner” provision that would allow someone to get their car back.  Also, owners can contest the seizure by requesting an administrative hearing for $50. The hearing officer would determine whether the police officer had probable cause to seize the vehicle.

The ordinance relies on the city’s civil authority to “abate nuisances” which has been used to demolish dilapidated houses, seize cars driven by drunken drivers and target other activities.  The ordinance declares vehicles used in prostitution as the “instrumentality of the nuisance.”  The DWI seizure program has survived court challenges, city officials said.  In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico raised legal questions about the prostitution ordinance, partly because it allows the city to seize a vehicle upon the driver’s arrest, without a conviction.

The ordinance says that the APD may seize the vehicle during an arrest and offer it back with an “immobilization device,” such as a boot. The “boot,” which requires the offender pay a $850 fee, enables officers to seize johns’ cars (with probably cause) for up to 30 days. The city, however, is not be required to offer the immobilization option to every offender. Instead, a police officer could seize the vehicle and serve the person with a “Notice of Forfeiture” and also mail it to the registered owner of the vehicle.

In early November 2014, city officials clarified to local news outlets that johns re-arrested after being served with “a boot” may be subject to vehicle forfeiture.


Key Sources

State New Mexico
Type City
Population 518271
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