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Harford County is a county of approximately 263,000 residents located in northeast Maryland. Its county seat is Bel Air, MD. Prostitution and sex trafficking are well-documented issues in the county. Among the more serious crimes associated with the county’s prostitution market is child sex trafficking. For example, in November 2013, three people were arrested after detectives made arrangements through an Internet site to meet the suspects at an Aberdeen motel room. One of suspects was charged with human trafficking in connection with her having allegedly transported a younger female to the motel for sex trafficking purposes. Massage parlors have also been sites of substantial prostitution and sex trafficking in the county.
To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments have conducted street-level reverse stings, some in response to community complaints. The first street-level reverse sting operation occurred in 1985, if not earlier. Police frequently release the names of arrested sex buyers to the local media. For example, in June 2014, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office conducted a street-level reverse sting along a portion of Riverside Parkway in Belcamp that contains several hotels and motels. The operation employed undercover female deputies, who posed as prostituted women. Three sex buyers were arrested as a result; each of the men’s names, ages, and addresses were publicized in local media outlets. All three were taken to Harford County Detention Center and released on their own recognizance. When asked about the operation, a HCSO spokesperson asserted that the sting “was a proactive attempt to counter illegal prostitution and related criminal activity and gather intelligence concerning the growing problem of human sex trade trafficking,” and reported that the HCSCO conducted such operations “two to four times a year.” Deputies also seized two smartphones, two grams of suspected methamphetamine, and $1,062 in cash according to charging documents.
Web-based reverse stings have also been conducted. For example, in September 2016, a web-based sting was conducted by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. Police placed a decoy ad on Backpage.com, a website known for prostitution and sex trafficking and communicated with potential sex buyers who had responded to the ad and arranged a location to meet. Upon their arrival at the predetermined location and attempt to exchange money with the undercover female deputy, the sex buyers were arrested. Six male sex buyers were arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution, while one prostituted woman was taken into custody. The operation took place at hotels in Aberdeen and Edgewood where the suspected sex buyers had arranged to meet the undercover deputy. The identities of the buyers were publicly released.
Additional demand reduction tactics such as the use of surveillance cameras to help bolster evidence against arrested sex buyers, identity disclosure, and loss of employment have been used in county. For example, in September 2019, a Harford County Public Schools teacher’s employment was terminated in response to allegations of allegedly soliciting sex from one of his underage students. According to online court records, the former teacher was arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution, sexual solicitation of a minor, and three counts of human trafficking. He had worked at Edgewood Middle School when he allegedly took a photo of a student’s body part at his residence and uploaded it to a “fetish social media account” that he ran, according to a news release. He later paid the student to perform a sex act on him, which the student did not do, and instead contacted the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. The man was hired on August 24, 2017 to teach vocal music at the middle school. He was placed on paid leave on August 22, 2019, and on Sept. 25, 2019, his employment with the middle school was terminated. The man was released on $5,000 bond from the Harford County Detention Center after an initial appearance with a district court commissioner.
- Harford County Sheriff’s Office
- Harford County Public Schools
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “IN THE STATE: Harford County – $42 Million Suit Is Filed over Prostitution Arrests”, Baltimore Sun, May 4 1985.
- Jury finds contractor guilty of solicitation in Aberdeen (1985)
- “Five Charged in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBAL-TV 11, February 5 2007.
- http://www.kxro.com/aberdeen-police-arrest-2-more-for-soliciting-a-prostitute (2012)
- http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/abingdon/prostitution-sting (2014)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://patch.com/maryland/prostitution-sting-lands-havre-de-grace-man-jail-harford-sheriff (2016)
- https://patch.com/maryland/belair/2-bel-air-men-charged-prostitution-detail (2016)
- http://foxbaltimore.com/six-men-one-woman-arrested-in-prostitution-investigation-in-harford-county (2016)
Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:
- https://www.baltimoresun.com/cng-ag-teacher-solictation-charges (2020)
- https://harfordsheriff.org/news/releases/harfordcac-aberdeen-man-arrested (2020)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- “Aberdeen Police Zero in on Men who Talk to Prostitutes”, Baltimore Sun, March 18 1982.
- “Aberdeen Seeks Laws to Fight Prostitution”, Baltimore Sun, January 23 1983.
- “Crime Cleanup Campaign Pays Off for Aberdeen”, Baltimore Sun, March 4 1984.
- “Three Charged in Internet Prostitution Sting in Aberdeen; One Facing a Count of Human Trafficking”, Baltimore Sun, November 25 2013.
- http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/prostitution-arrests (2018)