Burien, WA

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

Burien is a suburban city of roughly 52,000 residents in the U.S. state of Washington, located in King County, WA. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been documented in the city and greater county area for decades. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints to local law enforcement by residents and businesses. Additionally, in the 1980s, there was a serial killer that specifically targeted prostituted women operating in the area. In March 1984, police discovered a body of one of the serial killer’s victims in the Burien area. More recently, the city has experienced substantial issues with illicit massage businesses (IMBs) operating as fronts for prostitution. For example, in December, 2014, detectives from numerous federal and local agencies served simultaneous search warrants at six businesses and four residences in connection with allegedly using massage parlors as fronts for prostitution. The locations were in Burien, unincorporated King County, Seattle, and Snohomish County, according to a King County Sheriff’s Office media release. Five of the businesses searched were in Burien. Detectives arrested nine people. Three of those people were booked into jail for investigation of promoting prostitution. Detectives started the investigation three months previously after complaints from residents in the Burien area over activity at massage parlors in the city. Detectives were able to determine employees in these businesses were engaging acts of prostitution. Many of the workers at these businesses are exploited by the owners via excessive fees levied against them for rent and other charges. This results in the employees never being able to get out of debt to the owners, trapping them in a cycle of victimization, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The five Burien businesses each had their license revoked by City of Burien code enforcement. Among the more serious issues surrounding the area’s commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.

The Burien Police Department has employed tactics to identify and apprehend local sex buyers, such as reverse sting operations. For example, in 1998, a street-level reverse sting operation was conducted between SeaTac and Burien that resulted in the arrest of 17 male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution. Two prostituted women were also arrested during the operation however, the operation largely focused on apprehending individuals seeking to purchase commercial sex (sex buyers).

In addition to street-level operations, at least one web-based reverse sting operation has occurred in the city. These operations are typically conducted with support from other local law enforcement agencies. For example, in December 2019, the Burien Police Department, in collaboration with the King County Sheriff’s Office and SeaTac Police Department, conducted an operation to apprehend subjects who targeted minors for the purposes of prostitution. SeaTac and Burien Police Detectives posed as girls under the age of 15, and actively engage the suspects in conversations. Over the course of the two-day operation, detectives engaged in over 900 texts/voice conversations with individuals seeking to buy sex with children. Seven men arranged to meet the “underage girl” at a local motel. When the men arrived, they were arrested. Many more men appeared interested in sex with the children, but the elements for violation of Commercial Sex Abuse of a Minor requires various overt actions by the suspect (like going to the motel) before probable cause for arrest is met.

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Sting:

Web-Based Reverse Sting:

Background on Local Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:

State Washington
Type City
Population 51588
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