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Baxter is a small city of less than 10,000 residents, situated in central Minnesota’s Crow Wing County, near Brainerd. In May 2015, officers with the Baxter and Brainerd Police Departments, and Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, conducted what they described as a “first-of-its-kind” operation targeting sex buyers in the community. Law enforcement placed a decoy advertisement suggesting prostitution to a website known for commercial sex activity. Undercover officers then arranged to meet the individuals who responded to the listing at a Baxter hotel. Nine johns were arrested as a result. In early June 2015, the offenders’ ages and hometowns ran in the Brainerd Dispatch. At that time, the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office reported that the men’s cases remained under review and, once charged, their names may be disclosed to the public. As promised, the men’s names were disclosed to the public on June 24, 2015, after formal charges had been leveled against them. Each was charged with gross misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution; their identities were publicized in the Brainerd Dispatch.
When asked by the Brainerd Dispatch about the impetus for the sting, a representative with the Baxter Police Department reported that “information learned from an arrest earlier this year led [the] coalition of area law enforcement to go ahead with planning [the] operation.” The February 2015 incident in question, wherein a Brainerd resident was arrested and charged with felony attempted solicitation/inducement of prostitution after attempting to recruit an undercover officer with the Rochester Police Department to come to Brainerd to sell sex for him, reportedly compelled the officers to launch an investigation into web-based sex sales in the community. The Baxter Police Department representative Law enforcement involved noted that their intent was not only to arrest would-be sex buyers, but also “put an end to sex trafficking at its roots”:
“[The Rochester Police Department] kind of opened our eyes to the potential problem that’s in the area, and that’s when we made the decision we need to try and do something locally… I think what becomes very concerning is the trafficking piece of it, and as we get better educated from the advocates, we recognize the need for us to step in and at least try and start some type of enforcement.”
Less than three weeks later, BPD officers conducted a second small-scale reverse sting using decoy online advertisements. Two johns were arrested in the process; one of the offenders’ names ran in press in the days following the incident. The second arrestee’s age and hometown was disclosed, but his identity was not immediately released. In the following months, additional details were released, about the operations and the identitities of buyers. In April 2016, court appearances for four men charged with soliciting prostitution in law enforcement stings ended with guilty pleas. The men responded to online advertisements for escort services and then engaged in conversations with undercover police officers, where they solicited sex in exchange for money. Officers involved included those from the Baxter and Brainerd police departments and the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office. Two were each placed on terms of supervised probation while another man received a term of unsupervised probation for the gross misdemeanor charges. Each was ordered to complete the offenders prostitution program at Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit. All were sentenced to one year in the Crow Wing County Jail with that sentence suspended for two years, pending successful completion of the terms of probation and john school completion. The john school is intended to hold buyers of illegal sex accountable while raising awareness among them on the impacts of sex trafficking. If the offenders did not complete the program, they would be required to serve 30 days in jail. Terms of probation for the men included random searches of their person, residence, vehicles, electronic devices and social network sites and prohibition of the use of websites promoting escort services or prostitution. One of the men who pleaded guilty was granted the man permission to complete community service, in lieu of a $1,685 fine. According to court documents, the County Attorney would work to develop a local “john school,” a program intended to educate offenders on the impact their choices have on the women and children involved in sex trafficking.
In August 2013, a third law enforcement operation led by the Baxter Police Department netted four more men allegedly attempting to solicit prostitution in a public place. Police placed an online advertisement in the “Escort” section of a classified advertising website offering the services of a fictional woman at a Baxter hotel. The cases of four men who allegedly responded to the advertisement were forwarded to the county attorney’s office for possible gross misdemeanor charges. None of the men were booked into the Crow Wing County Jail as part of the operation. In two previous operations conducted in May and June, those men released from the scene at officer discretion each received a summons to appear in court on the charge.
- Baxter Police Department
- Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office
- Brainerd Police Department
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- “9 Arrested in Baxter Prostitution Sting,” Brainerd Dispatch, June 13 2015.
- “Nine Arrested in Prostitution Sting in Brainerd Lakes Area,” Bemidji Pioneer, June 13 2015.
- “9 Arrested in Central Minn. Prostitution Sting,” Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, June 14 2015.
- “‘Johns’ Charged in Baxter Prostitution Sting,” Brainerd Dispatch, June 24 2015.
- “2 Arrested in Second Baxter Prostitution Sting,” Brainerd Dispatch, June 26 2015.
John School, Community Service:
- http://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/crime-and-courts/3822808-3rd-prostitution-sting-4-more-arrests (2015)
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