Hennepin County, MN

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

The twin cities of Minneapolis (in Hennepin County) and St. Paul (Ramsey County) have well-documented problems with prostitution and sex trafficking dating back to at least the 1970s, and the local and regional commercial sex markets have involved the rape, assault, the murder of prostituted women, and the forced sex trafficking of pregnant women.  Hennepin County was the site of the activity of at least one serial killer who specifically targeted prostituted women.  Various agencies and nonprofit organizations have engaged in a wide range of activities designed to reduce the prevalence and negative impacts of illegal commercial sex.  Many of these efforts have attempted to address the chief cause of both prostitution and sex trafficking: consumer-level demand.

Reverse stings have been conducted within Hennepin since at least the 1980s (and probably before). Some of the recent reversals have been large-scale. For example, a recent operation in the 3rd precinct of Minneapolis ended with dozens of alleged customers being cited and more than 20 vehicles being seized.  Officers with the Third Precinct Community Response Team conducted a 6-day undercover “john detail” in response to neighborhood complaints of increased prostitution activity. The sting netted 53 alleged customers, and police also made a handful of arrests for other offenses.  “This is a crime that impacts the entire community and we recognize that sex buyers perpetuate an exploitative industry,” said Third Precinct Inspector Michael Sullivan. “Our officers did an excellent job re-enforcing that this illegal activity will not be tolerated in the City of Minneapolis.”  Officers focused on the Lake St East Corridor between 3rd Ave South and 17th Ave South.  Most of the details were conducted at night and during the lunch hour.  Along with the citations issued, 23 vehicles were seized, and in Minneapolis, there is a forfeiture process in which vehicles used in the commission of certain crimes could be surrendered by owners and liquidated by the city.

Many of the other, smaller cities within Hennepin County also have conducted reverse stings.  For example, in September, 2019, a multi-agency human trafficking sting was conducted in Eden Prairie. Officers posed as the person who posted an online ad for prostitution, and texted with people who responded to the decoy ad. Ten people were arrested after they responded to the ad and went to an Eden Prairie hotel near Interstate 494 and Flying Cloud Drive, to complete the transaction. All 10 were charged with hiring or agreeing to hire a person for sex, a “gross misdemeanor” that carries a maximum sentence of one year or a fine of $3,000. One person was also charged with interfering with an officer, a misdemeanor, after he tried to run when officers told him he was under arrest.  In Maple Grove in March, 2021 a man was arrested in an undercover sting operation conducted by the Maple Grove Police Department that focused on electronic solicitation of minors.  The 70 year old defendant was charged with one count of prostitution-hiring/agreeing to hire an individual believing to be between the ages of 13 or 16 to engage in sexual contact. Officers had placed numerous advertisements in online publications known to be used by individuals engaging in prostitution. One of those individuals responding to the ads was allegedly a 70 year old man, who engaged in a text conversation with an undercover officer posing as a 15-year-old girl.  The criminal complaint stated that the suspect and the undercover officer exchanged information relating to their future encounter when the undercover officer stated that she was under 20 and asked if 15 was okay, and the suspect stated it was fine.  They agreed on money and a time and place to meet.  The man went to a park in Maple Grove as instructed by the officer, was arrested, and was positively identified.  The arresting officer also called the phone the text messages originated from and determined it was the phone found on the suspect.  In a post-Miranda statement, the man admitted to texting with a person who said she was 15 and he agreed to pay for sexual abuse.  If convicted, he would face up to  10 years in prison for this felony charge and/or up to a $20,000 fine.

In March, 2023, a collaborative effort of several police departments within Hennepin County led to the arrest of 23 men in in Bloomington during a web-based prostitution sting. Officers from Bloomington’s Special Investigations Unit created a decoy ad for an adult featuring photos of an undercover Bloomington officer, according to a news release from the Bloomington Police Department. Police posted the ad online on multiple websites, and waited for people to respond. More than 200 people responded to the ad. The 23 men were arrested March 15 and 16 after they showed up to meet with the person they thought was prostituted. All would be charged with gross misdemeanors, and one man could face a felony charge for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Two other sex buyers were arrested with firearms. Police from Maple Grove, Eden Prairie and Richfield worked with Bloomington, along with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. The photos and identifiers for each arrested sex buyer were included in a law enforcement press release, and included by some local news sources.

The Twin Cities region has been a pioneer of programming designed to combat demand for commercial sex. A St. Paul program started the first brief treatment program in 1988 (Intervention Program for men who use prostitutes), preceded only by the John Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which began in 1981. The Twin Cities have had two programs running concurrently, one led by Steve Sawyer (a brief treatment program started in 1988, in Ramsey County) and one by Vednita Carter (Breaking Free, beginning in 2000 in Hennepin County). The program run by Mr. Sawyer accepts referrals from cities throughout the Minneapolis/ St. Paul metropolitan region and outside of the state of Minnesota. A second version of the intervention Program partners with a community restorative justice program in Minneapolis ( Restorative Justice Community Action) to combine brief therapy with community service. The Breaking Free program began accepting men arrested in Rochester and Olmsted County, Minnesota, in 2011, and has accepted referrals from Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as other communities throughout Minnesota.


Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Sting, Identity Disclosure:

Reverse Stings:

Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Local Sex Trafficking, Related Crimes:

State Minnesota
Type County
Population 1255000
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