Gregg County, TX

Tactics Used

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

Gregg County is a county located in eastern Texas and has a population of roughly 124,000. Its county seat is the city of Longview, which has approximately 80,000 residents. Containing the intersection of Interstate 20, Route 80, and Route 259, the county has been a site of widespread prostitution for decades, generating numerous complaints to city police departments and the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office. Sex trafficking of adults and children is also well-documented local problem. Cases of robbery committed against sex buyers and homicide of prostituted persons have also been documented. To address the wide range of crimes and disorder driven by the consumer-level demand that funds all commercial sex markets, law enforcement agencies within the county have routinely conducted street-level reverse stings, sometimes yielding more than 20 sex buyers in a single night. Operations typically involve the use of several undercover female officers, who serve as decoys placed along the city’s major roadways and rest stops. When men attempt to solicit sex from the decoys, they are quickly arrested. The LPD and other agencies frequently release the names and other identifying information about sex buyers to the media. For example in 2010, businesses along U.S. 80 spoke out about the prevalence of prostitution in the area. Business owners explained how police stings and other strategies are effective in denting prostitution traffic for a short time, but the sex buyers and prostitutes always return to the sidewalks, parking lots, and motels. Longview Police Assistant Chief Lonnie M. Smith said,

“As long as there are people willing to buy it and willing to sell it, they’re going to get together somewhere.”

Longview business owners along U.S. 80 collectively began to take action into their own hands. Local motel owners began refusing to rent rooms by the hour as the area is a known hub for prostitution. One restaurant banded to quell solicitation activity on the corridor. Taking it a step further, a local liquor store began to document records of prostitution arrests and activity he had witnessed. He recorded names of the prostituted women and the sex buyers in addition to recording video footage of their activities. The store owner has successfully been able to track down the sex buyer’s home addresses and has even notified sex buyer’s wives about what he has witnessed, including their husbands’ prior arrests. The local liquor store owner stated,  

“I think I’m trying to push public officials to do something about it.”  

Between March and May of 2010, Longview police had responded to 26 service calls on solicitors and made arrests on each of those calls. Twenty-three of those calls occurred during a two-week period in mid-March, and 19 calls from a local motel located along U.S. 80 and the Loop 281 corridor. Police began to see a pattern in the individuals being arrested-it was typically individuals who had previously been arrested on prior trespassing and/or prostitution-related charges.  

On March 17, 2010, owners of several local businesses banded under a memorandum of understanding. Under the memorandum, if a person is kicked off one business’s property for criminal trespass, then they are excluded from entering any of the other businesses. Getting that initiative to stick might be difficult, at least where the law is concerned. The Texas Penal Code specifies a property owner can legally keep someone off their property only if they have provided oral or written notice to the presumed intruder, or if certain other crimes such as assault, interfering with an emergency call, another felony are committed, or if a police officer witnesses the misdemeanor. If a property owner calls the police about an intruder and the person is on the sidewalk when officers arrive, this would not warrant sufficient evidence to secure an arrest or criminal trespass charge. However, the responding officer can file an incident report.  

Reverse Stings, Shaming:  

In 2008, Longview police arrested 19 men in an undercover prostitution sting where female officers posed as prostitutes. The men were booked in Gregg County Jail on charges of prostitution, a Class A Misdemeanor in the state of Texas. In August of 2010, the Longview Police Department conducted a prostitution sting that resulted in the arrest of 23 sex buyers in Gregg County. The identities, age, and charges of the 23 offenders were released to the general public through local news sources. Nineteen sex buyers were arrested on charges of prostitution, a Class A Misdemeanor, and were subsequently released on a $1,000 bond. Four of the arrested sex buyers were held in Gregg County Jail due to prior prostitution-related arrests.  

In June of 2016, five men were arrested on prostitution charges in Longview during an undercover prostitution sting conducted by Longview police officers and the Gregg County CODE Unit. The operation aimed at fighting sex trafficking in the city. All five men were arrested upon agreeing to purchase commercial sex from undercover officers. The identities, ages, images, and charges were released in a local news article. All five men were arrested on prostitution charges, a Class A Misdemeanor in the state of Texas.  

In 2017 a former school superintendent in East Texas was arrested on prostitution charges after soliciting a police officer posing as a prostitute. He was one of four suspects arrested in a three-hour undercover operation in Longview, about 100 miles east of Dallas. The arrested sex buyer, who led Kilgore ISD for 14 years, was released the same day from the Gregg County Jail after posting a $2,500 bond. Before becoming superintendent, he was a Kilgore High School principal, assistant principal, assistant middle school principal, counselor and teacher. At the time of the arrest, he also worked for the Texas Association of School Boards.  

In April of 2021, the Mayor of Athens, TX was arrested in Gregg County by Longview police on the felony charge of online solicitation of a minor. The Athens Mayor was arrested during a Texas Department of Public Safety prostitution sting. According to the city of Athens website, the mayor’s current term is set until 2023. However, after being released from jail on a $300,000 bond, the former mayor resigned from his position.  

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:  

In July of 2012, a sex buyer was pursued and assaulted by a woman in prostitution and her exploiter after the sex buyer failed to bring $2,000, the amount originally agreed upon by the trio in exchange for commercial sex with the prostituted women. The exploiter and the prostituted women drove from Dallas to Longview after arranging the meeting through an online advertisement. After the sex buyer arrived with only $200, the deal was canceled. The exploiter and the prostituted women pursued the sex buyer to the point of the exploiter getting out of the car and assaulted the sex buyer with a tire tool he stole from a garage as he crossed the property. The sex buyer ran until he spotted a police car. The exploiter was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, burglary of a building and promotion of prostitution and was held in the Gregg County Jail on bonds totaling $11,000. The prostituted woman was arrested on prostitution charge and her bond was set at $1,000.  

Education & Training:  

In 2015, The Zonta Club of Longview brought the University of Kentucky professor Claire Renzetti to Longview to train officers on sex trafficking, an issue that has received more attention during the past year mostly because of a campaign led by club members. Renzetti stated that her trainings are not a “one size fits all” and focuses on specific issues within each jurisdiction she visits,  

“Often trainings are done where the trainer comes in and says, ‘OK, here’s what you need to know about this problem,’ and then sends people on their way. There’s research that shows that’s effective for some people but not for other people, and that while problems in every jurisdiction have similarities, there can sometimes be important differences across jurisdictions that need to be addressed.”  

All Longview officers receive four hours of training on sex trafficking and prostitution. In addition, a team of about six officers and the department’s detective, Debra Stiles, were assigned to sex trafficking cases in Longview. Those officers underwent an additional eight-hour course. Due to the nature of sex trafficking investigations, it can be difficult to document the number of cases Longview or any city sees each year, but officers and Detective Stiles were hopeful in being able to gain a better understanding from Renzetti of how sex trafficking and prostitution affects residents and victims, in addition to learning how to be more proactive against these issues.  

In April of 2021, FBI Special Agent Kimberly Granich, who is a Longview native, recently gave a presentation to the Zonta Club of Longview. Local, state, and federal agencies have noted that the city’s proximity to Interstate 20 increases issues of sex and labor trafficking within Longview. Special Agent Granich’s training focused on dispelling sex and labor trafficking myths and raising awareness about the reality of trafficking in the city of Longview. Among those: Most cases involve victims kidnapped by strangers, and some communities simply are immune to such crimes. Granich bluntly stated,  

“I saw this all the time when I would go to the nicer parts of town where I was from, the nicer city, the more affluent. I would hear, ‘It does not happen here; it does not happen at our Christian private school.’ That’s just simply not true. It can happen anywhere, and it does happen everywhere.”  

Granich also spoke out about misconceptions in terms of how most people perceive a trafficker and their victim to be strongly misconceived. She urged law enforcement and the general public to understand that traffickers and their victims can be of any age, gender, or ethnicity. Granich also encouraged parents to talk to their children about the issue of exploitation, as although it is a difficult conversation, it is also a very important one. 

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Shaming:

John School:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

  • “Growth in Sexually Oriented Businesses Divides Longview,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 21 1994.
  • “Cobs Nab Four Women in Prostitution Sting, LPD Not Seeing Decrease in Activity,” Longview News-Journal, April 21 2006.
  • “Local Digest: 8 Women Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Longview News-Journal, July 21 2006.
  • “Police Arrest Two Women on Prostitution Charges,” Longview News-Journal, April 9 2008.
  • “Woman Arrested for Prostitution Attempted to Swallow Cocaine,” Longview News-Journal, April 16 2008.
  • “Illegal Drug Trade Drives Longview Prostitution, Police Response on U.S. 80 Pleases Business Owners,” Longview News-Journal, June 22 2008.
  • “Longview Police Arrest Eight People during Prostitution Sting,” Longview News-Journal, August 1 2008.
  • “Prostitution Sting Nets Five Arrests,” Longview News-Journal, January 10 2009.
  • “Four Arrested on Prostitution Charges, Police Report,” Longview News-Journal, January 23 2009.
  • “Prostitution Sting Nets Six Arrests,” Longview News-Journal, June 16 2009.
  • “10 People Nabbed in Prostitution Sting,” Longview News-Journal, November 6 2009.
State Texas
Type County
Population 123945
Location
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