Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city, with an estimated population of about 560,000. Albuquerque is located in the high desert of north-central New Mexico, along the Rio-Grande, and serves as the county seat of Bernalillo County. The city was founded in 1706 as a Spanish colony. 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, and in 2011 a New Mexico State District Judge – the chief criminal court judge in Albuquerque – was arrested and charged with raping a prostituted woman, making and selling a videotape of the rape, and intimidation of a witness. According to the criminal complaint, an informant helped a detective to locate and purchase a DVD of the sexual assault for $400.
To combat the array of problems stemming from commercial sex, police have been conducting periodic reverse stings since at least 1980, and perhaps longer. In past years, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) did not use shaming tactics (i.e., releasing the identities of men arrested in reverse stings), nor did they seize autos or apply any post-arrest punishment aside from a $200 fine and up to one day in jail while sex buyers were being processed and posting bail. APD began conducting internet-based reverse stings 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 2011, after the high profile scandal of a sitting judge raping a prostituted person and others – including a former university president allegedly involved in an elite online prostitution ring – community groups (such as RELEASE) began investigating anti-demand tactics, particularly whether the john school model could be employed in Albuquerque. However, some thought a john school would not viable because sex buyers rarely face severe punishment and prosecutors almost never argue for a jail sentence for a sex buyer. The idea did not garner enough support to be implemented in Albuquerque.
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 sex buyers 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 said that the APD may seize a 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 sex buyers’ vehicles (with probable 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 sex buyers re-arrested after being served with “a boot” may be subject to vehicle forfeiture.
Reverse Stings, Shaming, and Neighborhood Action
APD has continued conducting reverse stings in recent years, often at the request of the community. In 2019, APD arrested 15 sex buyers in a sex trafficking sting after a neighborhood crime watch group reported prostitution in the area between San Pedro and Louisiana. APD Commander Mizel Garcia said,
“They tell us who look for– what types of car, what times of day. To me, it’s something I want our community to know– if you are having this problem, please let us know and we will be out there.”
In that 2019 reverse sting, APD also used shaming by releasing photographs of the arrested sex buyers. Commander Garcia said he believed that identifying the men who were arrested serves as a warning to others. APD was also preparing to conduct additional stings during the State Fair and Balloon Fiesta.
A 2020 operation resulted in the arrest of eleven people for prostitution-related offenses, including one man who attempted to pay an undercover officer for sexual services with a hamburger. This sex buyer was also subjected to shaming through the publishing of his name and picture.
- National Assessment Survey and Interviews
- Reverse Stings:
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 18 Arrests”, Albuquerque Journal, February 2 2006.
- “Defense Agency Worker Arrested”, Albuquerque Journal, May 28 2006.
- “Vice Squad Arrests 16 ‘Johns’ in Sting”, Albuquerque Tribune, October 27 2006.
- “Sting Catches Johns Looking for Hookers”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, August 13 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting in ABQ ‘Successful'”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, February 14 2011.
- “Albuquerque Police Crack Down on Prostitution”, NBC/KOB-TV 4, March 3 2011.
- “APD: Video Stings Cop in Hooker Case”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, November 19 2011.
- “APD Wants More Law on Hooker Customers”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, February 18 2012.
- “9 Men Arrested During Prostitution Sting”, Albuquerque Journal, July 28 2012.
- “Police Crack Down on State Fair Prostitutes”, ABC/KOAT-TV 7, September 16 2012.
- “Prostitute Sting Nets 12, Including Man Who Left His Children in Car Without Jackets”, Albuquerque Journal, December 9 2012.
- “Police Roll Out Measure Aimed at Prostitution Solicitors”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, September 15 2014.
- “Operations Target Prostitution at NM State Fair”, Albuquerque Journal, September 16 2014.
- https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/15-men-arrested-in-prostitution-sting/5474971/ (2019)
- https://www.krqe.com/news/crime/man-accused-of-trying-to-pay-prostitute-with-hamburger-caught-in-police-sting/ (2020)
- Auto Seizure:
- “Mayor Wants to Give ‘Johns’ the Boot”, Albuquerque Journal, May 30 2013.
- “Vehicle Seizure Could Turn Around Prostitution”, Albuquerque Journal, September 12 2013.
- “City Council OKs Seizing Cars Used in Prostitution Crime”, Albuquerque Journal, November 5 2013.
- “Police Roll Out Measure Aimed at Prostitution Solicitors,” CBS/KRQE-TV 13, September 15 2014.
- “Albuquerque Enacts New Nuisance Abatement Ordinance; Ordinance Targets Prostitution,” ABC/KOAT-TV 7, November 2 2014.
- Neighborhood Action:
- Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Trafficking Law Nets First Indictment”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, April 23 2010.
- “Cops: NC Girl Forced into Prostitution”, KRQE-TV 13, July 29 2010.
- “Man Arrested for Human Trafficking”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, October 3 2011.
- “Cops: Pimp Held Child to Prostitute Mom”, KRQE-TV 13, December 6 2011.
- “Two Arrested in Human Trafficking Case”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, July 15 2012.
- “El Paso County Juvenile Probation Officer Charged in Connection to Sex-Trafficking Gang”, El Paso Times, January 22 2014.
- “Court Documents Outline Jeffco Crime Spree, Sex Trafficking Case”, Denver Post, August 24 2014.
- “1 Arrested, 1 Sought in Connection to Albuquerque Sex Trafficking Ring,” NBC/KOB-TV 4, January 28 2016.
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Police Bust Online Sex Operation”, NBC/KOB-TV 4, December 28 2007.
- “Police Sweep the Streets Before Summer”, NBC/KOB-TV 4, March 30 2008.
- “McMullin Sentenced to 13 1/2 Years in Prostitution Case”, Albuquerque Journal, August 17 2009.
- “Doctor Helped Manage Prostitution Ring”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, February 15 2010.
- “Prostitution Busts Made Near Albuquerque School”, NBC/KWES-TV 9, February 22 2010.
- “Head of Prostitution Ring Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, March 8 2010.
- “2 Massage Parlors Shut for Prostitution”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, November 1 2010.
- “APD Busts Suspected Prostitution Ring”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, February 22 2011.
- “Ex-Strip Club Operated Charged as Prostitution Ringleader”, KRQE-TV 13, May 14 2011.
- “Ex-University Head Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, USA Today, June 24 2011.
- “Police Bust Pimps, Prostitutes at Fair”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, September 10 2011.
- https://www.abqjournal.com/50091/johns-seldom-prosecuted.html 2011
- “Massage Parlors Busted for Prostitution”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, May 1 2012.
- “Cop Stings Take Down Massage Parlors”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, June 28 2012.
- “Police Crack Down on State Fair Prostitutes”, ABC/KOAT-TV 7, September 16 2012.
- Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “David Parker Ray: The Toy Box Killer,” Crime Library, TruTV.
- West Mesa Homicide Investigation, Cold Case Files, Criminal Investigations Division, Albuquerque Police Department.
- West Mesa Murders, Wikipedia.
- “Police Say Man Confesses to 5 Murders in West”, St. Petersburg Evening Independent, November 17 1980.
- “Murder, Torture Inquiry Widens”, Lakeland Ledger, March 31 1999.
- “Albuquerque’s Growing Murder Mystery: 11 Bodies and Counting”, ABC News, February 26 2009.
- “Remains of 11th Body Uncovered at Crime Scene West of Albuquerque”, CBS/WNCT-TV 9, February 26 2009.
- “Who’s Murdering the Prostitutes of Albuquerque?”, The Daily Beast, April 27 2009.
- “Prostitutes Making Dangerous Deals”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, October 12 2010.
- “Albuquerque Judge Albert S. Pat Murdoch Arrested in Rape of Prostitute, Who Sold Tape of Encounter to Cops”, Huffington Post, July 20 2011.
- “New Angle Takes on Mesa Mass Murder”, CBS/KRQE-TV 13, May 15 2012.
- “David Parker Ray Abducted and Killed 40 Women, but Cynthia Jaramillo Escaped”, Huffington Post, September 28 2012.
- “Search for West Mesa Killer Goes On”, Albuquerque Journal, February 8 2013.
- “Group Helps Prostitutes Avoid Danger”, New Mexico Social Press, April 12 2013.
- “String of Albuquerque Prostitutes Abducted”, ABC/KOAT-TV 7, May 31 2013.
- “Detectives Not Turning Down West Mesa Murder Leads; Remains of 11 Women, Fetus Found in 2009”, ABC/KOAT-TV 7, July 25 2014.
- “Homicide Victim Helped Those in Need, Family Says”, Albuquerque Journal, August 19 2014.
- “Seven Years Later, One Detective Remains on West Mesa Killings,” Albuquerque Journal, February 1 2016.