Lakeland, FL

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

Lakeland is a city of approximately 115,000 residents, located between Tampa and Orlando in Polk County, FL. Prostitution has been a persistent and visible problem in the area for decades. The Lakeland Police Department has adopted several tactics to identify and apprehend sex buyers and sellers. Beginning in 1988, Lakeland officers have incorporated street-level reverse stings. Operations typically employ the use of an undercover female officer as a decoy. Sex buyers attempting to solicit the decoy are then quickly arrested. Police routinely release arrestees’ names and other identifying information to the local media.

The Lakeland Police Department and Polk County Sheriff’s Office have noted significant shifts in the city’s commercial sex market in recent years as an increasing number of sex workers move their operations indoors and online. To address this, officers also conduct web-based reverse stings by postings decoy advertisements on sites such as Craigslist and For example, in 2012, a web-based operation resulted in the arrest of 14 male sex buyers.

Lakeland has been one of the sites included in large-scale operations throughout Polk County. For example, in 2015, a web-based reverse sting conducted by PCSO deputies and the Lakeland Police Department, “Operation Naughty Not Nice,” resulted in the arrest of 95 male sex buyers. As in Lakeland’s street-level reverse stings, sex buyers arrested for soliciting sex online may also have their names released to the public. In May of 2019, a large-scale operation conducted by PCSO deputies with assistance from local law enforcement agencies like Lakeland PD, called “Operation No Spring Fling,” produced over 150 arrests for prostitution-related charges.  In February, 2023, it was announced that the Lakeland 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.

Consequences associated with a prostitution arrest include public identity disclosure. This is done when news outlets put names and photos of the arrested sex buyer on their websites. Another consequence of sex buying is the $5,000 “civil penalty” required by statute. Other penalties include forfeiting any property seized (including vehicles), having their driver’s license suspended, completing community service hours, and paying the cost of the investigation. In addition, neighborhoods within the city have formed various organizations in an effort to reduce prostitution-related activity in the area through community engagement and activism.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex within the county. For example, in September 2012, a Lakeland High School principal resigned after being arrested and charged in a prostitution sting. He was one of 12 men charged with soliciting a prostituted person in a sting. Polk County sheriff’s deputies said the principal had contacted a female detective by computer and met her in a motel. Their meeting was videotaped. The man had worked for the Polk County School District for 26 years and became a high school principal in 2004. The Schools Superintendent said the sex buyer resigned in lieu of termination. In October 2019, Lakeland’s longtime city attorney resigned following his arrest in an undercover sex sting operation. Lakeland’s Mayor received an official letter of retirement, effective immediately, that was delivered to the desk of the City Manager for processing. The sex buyer had been associated with the city either as an employee or representing them for nearly 35 years.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Neighborhood Action:

Community Service:

Auto Seizure:

License Suspension Due to Sex Buyer Arrest:

Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Florida
Type City
Population 115425
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