Baltimore, MD

Tactics Used

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

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. 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 altimore 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 johns 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 changing 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 and diversion program for prostituted women (know as the Specialized Prostitution Diversion Program).


Key Sources

National Assessment Survey & Interview

Full Decriminalization of Prostitution:

Reverse Stings:


Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Proposed John School:


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 602495
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