Baltimore, MD

Tactics Used

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

Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, with over 600,000 residents. Street prostitution has been a persistent and visible problem in the city the for decades, and dozens of cases of sex trafficking and prostitution-related violence have been reported in the area. For example, in March 2021, a man was charged in the death of two women, at least one of whom was a prostituted woman whom he had arranged to meet for sex and then strangled to death. To address the issue, the Baltimore Police Department has elaborated an aggressive and comprehensive strategy that targets sex buyers as well as sellers. Officers from the department were among the first in the nation to utilize street-level reverse stings in the mid-1970s. For more than four decades, street-level and web-based operations were routinely conducted, using teams of undercover female officers as decoys each backed by support teams of uniformed law enforcement personnel.

The last known – and possibly final – reverse sting operation in the city occurred in November 2019.  In early 2020, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office made a series of announcements about temporarily adopting a policy of full decriminalization of prostitution (as well as other misdemeanors) during the Covid pandemic, stating that arrest warrants were dismissed, prisoners released for hundreds of cases, and the office would not prosecute prostitution charges. In March 2021, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office announced that the policy of full decriminalization of prostitution had been permanently adopted. Since these announcements, there has been no indication that Baltimore police were conducting reverse stings or any other prostitution demand reduction operations, since arrests on prostitution charges involving adults (buying, selling, and pimping) would not be prosecuted.

Demand Reduction Tactics Used Prior to 2020:

In 1982, city officials instituted a policy allowing law enforcement to mail letters to the homes of arrested sex buyers notifying family members and other residents that the individual was caught soliciting, and warning the offender of the potential health risks associated with buying sex. While the policy was initially used as a diversion option for first-time offenders (allowing them to avoid formal charges), it was later used by police in a variety of circumstances. For example, in later 2011 officers sent letters to the homes of individuals seen driving in areas known for commercial sex activity, but without arresting or charging men with violating prostitution laws. When police noted the same vehicles circling the Charles Village area, they wrote down the individuals’ license plates. A letter was then mailed to the address attached to the vehicle’s registration, notifying the reader that police had seen the car idling in areas known for prostitution.

While the BPD had at times released the names of those arrested for prostitution-related offenses, it did not have a formal policy of shaming. In fact, officers and public officials had made repeated attempts to engage arrestees in meaningful dialogue about the personal and social consequences of prostitution. Between 2007 and 2009, the Baltimore Health Department researched and developed the beginnings of a john school program (dubbed RESPECT). Officials created a curriculum (with agendas and other educational material), and drafted memoranda of understanding outlining participants’ roles and responsibilities. Though RESPECT did not ultimately receive the final approval necessary to launch, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office had operated a similarly-oriented diversion program for prostituted women (know as the Specialized Prostitution Diversion Program).

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in October, 2016, the Executive Director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) was caught in his colleagues’ own undercover prostitution stings. The 71-year-old was charged with soliciting prostitution. The man became head of the MCPA following a 30-plus year career as a Maryland state trooper, and seven years as head of the Maryland Transit Authority.  The man reportedly denied the solicitation allegation but then resigned from the MCPA. He had been arrested after approaching an undercover vice officer in an outdoor area of southeast Baltimore known for prostitution. The undercover officer cited the man and said he would receive a summons for arraignment at a later date.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey & Interview

Full Decriminalization of Prostitution:

Reverse Stings:

Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:

Letters:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Proposed John School:

Shaming:

Proposed SOAP Orders:

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 Maryland
Type City
Population 609032
Location
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