Bernalillo County, NM

Tactics Used

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

Bernalillo County is the most populous county in New Mexico, with a population of approximately 679,000 residents. The majority of the county’s population reside in Albuquerque, NM – the most populous city in the county and state. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity are well-documented in the incorporated and unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County and the main city of Albuquerque, generating complaints to police from residents and local businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with commercial sex in the county are child sex trafficking and prostitution-related homicide, including at least two serial killers who have specifically target prostituted women in the area. Additionally, 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. In addition to prostituted women, reports of sex buyers and sex traffickers being assaulted have been documented.

To combat the array of problems stemming from commercial sex, police and sheriff’s deputies have been conducting periodic reverse stings since at least 1978, if not earlier. In 1978, the City of Albuquerque passed an ordinance equalizing penalties for sex buyers and prostituted women. As a result of the new ordinance, police reportedly arrested over 50 male sex buyers in a series of street-level reverse sting operations. Many of the preliminary street-level reverse stings conducted by the APD resulted in large quantities of arrests. For example, in 1986, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) conducted a street-level reverse sting at the annual New Mexico State Fair, that resulted in the arrest of 45 individuals; 43 male sex buyers charged with soliciting prostitution and two prostituted women charged with prostitution. As a result of these investigations, police have been known to release the identities of arrested sex buyers. For example, in 1982, the APD conducted a street-level reverse sting at the annual New Mexico State Fair, that resulted in the arrest of 13 male sex buyers, whose identities were release by police.

In addition to street-level reverse sting operations, the APD began conducting internet-based reverse stings in 2005. Since then, web-based reverse stings covering areas throughout Bernalillo County (and some state-wide) have largely focused on arresting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. For example, in June 2015, the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force of the New Mexico Attorney General’s office announced serving 41 search warrants, arresting 24 alleged predators. The initiative, “Operation Broken Heart II,” in New Mexico was part of a coordinated law enforcement effort focusing on arrests and on increased Internet safety education and outreach. The New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force operation was concentrated on offenders who: (1) possess, manufacture, and distribute child pornography; (2) engage in online enticement of children for sexual purposes; (3) engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children (commonly referred to as child prostitution), and (4) engage in child sex tourism (traveling abroad for the purpose of sexually abusing foreign children). The Albuquerque Office of Homeland Security Investigations ran the operation, along with the Attorney General’s Office with assistance from the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. During the operation, APD detectives arrested five prostituted women on petty misdemeanor prostitution charges after discovering their ads for “adult services” online. Although BCSO identified nearly a dozen prostituted persons, they did not make any arrests, but rather aided these individuals in finding social services. In September, 2021,  five people were arrested as part of an “underage prostitution” (i.e., child sex trafficking) sting, including a state employee who later pleaded guilty. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Homeland Security on the operation.

Sex buyers have also been arrested as a result of alternative investigations initiated from residential complaints to local law enforcement. For example, in 2004, the BSCO arrested a 48-year-old man on numerous child sexual exploitation charges. According to reports, the man had solicited sex from a 14-year-old high school student. At the time of the arrest, the 14-year-old girl told deputies that the offender $20 to $30 each time they had sex during the last year. She said they met about two times a week for eight months,” and that he had “supplied her with marijuana and beer during their encounters.” The investigation was initiated after officials from the group home that the girl resided in reported the incident to the BCSO. The group home was for teenagers with family issues. According to police, the 14-year-old girl reportedly told them that “she has been prostituting herself since she was 11.” The identity and image of the arrested offender were publicly released by the BCSO.

In 2011, law enforcement and nonprofit groups attempted to establish a “john school” program in effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the city. According to police, the program was intended to supplement reverse sting operations conducted by the APD, as the department lacked the resources to run such operations every night. The program planned to educate first-time sex buyers about, “sexual exploitation, STDs, human trafficking and sexual addiction.” The sex buyer’s tuition would cover all the school’s costs. Additionally, the APD saw the need for a “john school” program as at the time, New Mexico was the only state in the Southwest that did not possess a “john school.” However, a “john school” program was never established in the city, to our knowledge.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

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 New Mexico
Type County
Population 679037
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