Contra Costa County, CA

Tactics Used

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

Contra Costa County occupies the northern portion of the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, California.  It is primarily suburban, and has a population of about 1,200,000. The county seat is Martinez. Commercial sex activity has been well-documented in the communities, and in unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking, and violence committed against both the providers and consumers.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department often collaborates with municipal police departments to conduct reverse stings.  For example, in Bay Point (formerly West Pittbsurg) complaints about prostitution from residents and businesses, as well as homicides involving prostituted women, encouraged the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office to adopt new strategies that target sex buyers in addition to sex sellers, and have conducted a street-level reverse sting operations to arrest buyers.

Pittsburg is near Bay Point, Antioch, Concord, and Walnut Creek,  and prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as problems in those communities, including the presence of  a serial killer who targeted sex sellers in the 1990s. In their efforts to reduce prostitution, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and Pittsburg Police Department have conducted periodic reverse stings since at least 1998. Operations are typically conducted at street level, using one or more female undercover officers as decoys. The names of arrested johns are not routinely released to the public.  In 1998, media outlets reported that county officials were considering adopting an auto seizure ordinance that would enable them to seize and impound vehicles used for the purposes of solicitation. It is unclear if said ordinance was ultimately adopted.

The Richmond Police Department began conducting street-level reverse stings in 2005, and web-based reverse stings in 2008. Once arrested, johns in Richmond may have their vehicles seized (if they were used for the purposes of solicitation) and may have their driver’s licenses suspended. If convicted, they may be served with SOAP orders that restrict their ability to enter areas of the city known for prostitution. In March 2014, the RPD announced that it would also use its Facebook and Twitter pages to broadcast the identities of arrested sex buyers; in September 2014, the names and arrest photos of 11 johns were posted to the department’s Facebook page following a sting operation. In October 2018, a reverse sting on 23rd Street yielded arrests of eight customers and the rescue of two juvenile girls ages 15 and 17. Residents and city officials have also undertaken efforts to address demand prior to the point of arrest, by engaging in public education campaigns and developing neighborhood watch groups. In 2014, Richmond Police reported to members of the local media that had been working with “residents in the area of 23rd Street and lower Ohio Avenue to report the license plate of anyone they suspect is loitering for the purpose of soliciting a prostitute. The owner of the vehicle is then sent a ‘Dear John’ letter that notifies them they were seen loitering in an area known for prostitution.”

County-wide efforts are usually led by the Sheriff’s Department.  E.g., in  March 2017, a retired Oakland police captain was sentenced to jail, probation and a “john school” prostitution awareness class after he admitted to buying sex from a young woman at the center of a Bay Area police sex exploitation scandal.  A Contra Costa Superior Court judge sentenced the man to two years probation and five days in jail, and he was allowed to substitute “court watch” for jail time, meaning he can serve his sentence simply by sitting in a court audience. Additionally, he was required to pay approximately $1,200 to attend a “john school” program.  “Dozens” of current and former officers were investigated after the woman told investigators she’d had sex with officers from numerous Bay Area police agencies, including some who she said gave her inside information about upcoming prostitution stings. Further, she alleged that she’d had sex with officers while she was underage. The investigation implicated officers from Oakland, Livermore, Richmond, the Alameda and Contra Costa sheriff’s departments, and other agencies. It led to lawsuits against the cities of Oakland and Richmond. Four Richmond officers implicated in the scandal, out of 11 who were investigated, and three were fired.

The county has also participated in statewide collaborations with demand reduction components. For example, in February, 2020 the results from the statewide “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild” were announced.  The week-long operation was led by the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force and 70 participating federal, state and local law enforcement agencies (including the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office) and task forces from across California.  In addition to rescuing and serving victims of sexual slavery and human trafficking and arresting then prosecuting their captors, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild also seeks to disrupt the demand for vulnerable victims by targeting their customers. Investigators focused enforcement operations wherever the trafficking of human beings took place and included street-level and internet-based operations. The operation deployed specially trained cyber detectives who posed as vulnerable teenagers and interacted with suspects on social media, traffickers and customers who sought to exploit and sexually abuse children. Operation Reclaim and Rebuild resulted in 266 male sex buyers arrested for the charge of Solicitation, as well as the recovery of 76 adult and 11 minor victims and the arrest of 27 suspected traffickers. Tin the press release announcing these results, the head of the Task Force said, “To the Johns:  Purchasing commercial sex is illegal and buying sex adds to the exploitation of those involved.”  Downloadable Material: Talking Points and Slides

 

Key Partners

  • Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department
  • Contra Costa Superior Court
  • Pleasantville Police Department
  • Pittsburg Police Department
  • Richmond Police Department
  • Oakland Police Department
  • Hayward Police Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation

Key Sources

Reverse Sting, John School, Shaming:

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings:

  • “Police in Contra Costa Back Proposed Law to Deter Prostitution; County Ordinance that Would Force Customers to Forfeit Their Cars”, San Francisco Chronicle, October 13 1998.
  • “Contra Costa Patrons of Prostitution Might Need a Ride Home”, Contra Costa Times, October 14 1998.
  • “120 Arrested in Vice Sweep; Johns Targeted in Pittsburg, Bay Point Roundup”, Antioch Ledger Dispatch, June 24 2000. 
  • “Arrested in Bay Point Police Prostitution Sting”, San Francisco Chronicle, April 25 2001.
  • “Prostitution Sting Sweeps Bay Point; County Vice Unit Places Decoys to Entice Willow Pass Road’s Johns”, Contra Costa Times, August 29 2003.
  • https://lasd.org/operation-reclaim-and-rebuild-2020/

Auto Seizure:

Shaming:

Letters:

Neighborhood Action:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:

 

State California
Type County
Population 1147000
Location
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