|IT Based Tactics||✓|
Haines City is the third most populous city in Polk County, FL, with approximately 25,000 residents. It is part of the Lakeland–Winter Haven metropolitan statistical area, which, in turn, is considered part of the Tampa Bay Area. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the city and surrounding areas. Among the more serious issues associated with the city’s commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in 2011, a Haines City school bus monitor and a Haines City police officer were arrested for allegedly operating a child sex trafficking ring at a local residence under the name “Genuine Quality Entertainment.” According to Polk County Sheriff’s Deputies, the sex trafficker was arrested and charged with bribery of a law enforcement officer, two counts of procuring for prostitution of a minor and two counts of sex trafficking. The police officer was charged with sexual battery by a law enforcement officer, lewd battery and official misconduct.
In effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the city, the Haines City Police Department has deployed various demand reduction tactics such as reverse stings and the public disclosure of sex buyer identities. For example, in 2017, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office worked with detectives and investigators from the Haines City Police Department, Lakeland Police Department, Lakes Wales Police Department, and Winter Haven Police Department to conduct a web-based reverse sting operation called, “Operation No Tricks, No Treats.” During the operation, undercover detectives posted decoy ads or profiles on websites known for prostitution, posing as prostituted people. In addition, detectives responded to profiles and ads posted by prostituted people. According to the sheriff’s office, 51 of the arrests were related to prostituted people and 209 of the arrests were individuals who attempted to solicit undercover detectives posing as prostituted people. Seventeen arrests were made for other offenses. Additionally, the sheriff’s office identified some of the arrested sex buyers in the undercover operation as doctors and pharmacists, former and current law enforcement officers, a lawyer, two men who traveled to sexually abuse minors, and two sex offenders. The identities and images of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.
The Haines City Police Department has since continued to participate and conduct reverse sting operations. For example, the Haines City Police Department participated in a web-based reverse sting operation in 2021, that resulted in over 102 arrests. In February, 2023, it was announced that the Haines City Police Department participated in a large scale sex trafficking operation led by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office that resulted in 213 arrests. During “Operation Traffic Stop,” 24 potential human trafficking victims were identified, and 89 suspects were arrested for “soliciting a prostitute,” traveling to the undercover location to negotiate having sex in exchange for money.
Employment loss is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2008, a former Haines City Police Chief resigned after being indicted for three counts of soliciting prostitution. According to reports, the former Police Chief resigned to avoid prosecution. The former officer had solicited sex from a prostituted woman three times between November, 2007, and December, 2007. He was not arrested because the charges were misdemeanors. The offender had been with the Haines City Police Department since 1985 when he was hired as a patrolman. He served as detective, sergeant and lieutenant before being appointed interim police chief when former Police Chief Tom Wheeler retired. The sex buyer, a Haines City native, became police chief in August 2003. At the time of his resignation, he was paid an annual salary of over $72,000.
In 2011, a Haines City police officer was arrested on allegations that he had repeatedly received oral sex from a teenage sex trafficking victim — while in uniform — and agreed to give her trafficker “special favors” in return. The officer resigned from the police department upon his arrest, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.wjhl.com/doctors-cops-among-277-arrested-in-human-trafficking-sting-in-fl/ (2017)
- https://www.wptv.com/operation-no-spring-fling-154-arrested-in-florida-prostitution-human-trafficking-sting (2019)
- https://www.wtxl.com/operation-santas-naughty-list-polk-deputies-arrest-120-on-prostitution-drug-possession (2019)
- https://www.nydailynews.com/ny-florida-prostitution-sting-nabs-pro-golfer-pastor-dozen-others- (2019)
- https://www.dailyridge.com/operation-no-tricks-no-treats-102-arrested-pcso-undercover-operation-disrupt-human-trafficking/ (2021)
- https://www.theledger.com/prostitution-human-trafficking-sting-yields-102-arrests-polk-county/ (2021)
- https://www.baynews9.com/102-suspects-arrested-in-central-florida-human-trafficking-probe (2021)
- https://www.wqcs.org/operation-traffic-stop-detectives-join-other-agencies-in-undercover-human-trafficking-investigation (2023)
Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.theledger.com/police-chief-resigns-captain-indicted/ (2008)
- https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2008-11-14-badchief14-story (2008)
- Haines City Police Chief Resigns; No. 2 Indicted (2008)
- https://www.theledger.com/interim-haines-city-chief-staying/ (2008)
- https://www.tampabay.com/2-teens-held-as-sex-slaves-deputies-say/ (2011)
- https://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com/pdf (2011)
- https://patch.com/lakeland/pastor-pro-golfer-among-124-charged-polk-prostitution-sting (2019)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area: