Lumberton, NC

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

Lumberton is a city of approximately 21,000 residents, located in southern North Carolina along the state’s Inner Banks. It is the county seat of Robeson County, NC. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the city for decades. This activity and its ancillary crimes have generated residential complaints to local law enforcement. Among the more serious crimes associated with the city’s commercial sex market are targeted homicides against prostituted people and child sex trafficking.

In an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the city, the Lumberton Police Department has employed various demand reduction tactics targeting individuals seeking to purchase commercial sex in the area, such as reverse sting operations. Prior to the initiation of street-level reverse sting operations, male sex buyers were arrested as a result of alternative investigations or from residential complaints to local law enforcement on soliciting prostitution charges. The first street-level reverse sting operation conducted in 1995, resulted in the arrest of eight male sex buyers on charges of soliciting prostitution. Their identities were released in reports by local media outlets. Since 1995, the LPD has conducted at least three more street-level reverse stings, using undercover female officers as decoys. A more recent operation occurred in October 2021, and resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers. The operation was led by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office in partnership with the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the Lumberton Police Department, Fayetteville Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. All five men were charged with solicitation of prostitution. One man was additionally charged with possession of a stolen firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The identities of the sex buyers were included in news reports. It was unclear from reports whether the investigation was a street-level or web-based reverse sting operation.

The LPD has also participated in web-based reverse sting operations, where decoy ads are posted by undercover officers on websites known for commercial sex. Undercover officers then communicate with potential sex buyers online, arranging a location and price. Upon arrival to the predetermined location, sex buyers are arrested by undercover officers for soliciting prostitution. For example, in 2017, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and the Lumberton Police Department participated in Operation Cross Country XI. The 2017 operation was the 11th iteration of the FBI’s annual law enforcement action focused on recovering underage victims of prostitution and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of sex trafficking at home and abroad, that in total, resulted in the recovery of 84 sexually exploited juveniles and the arrests of 120 sex traffickers.

In 1996, the LPD implemented an alternative method involving the city’s residents to tackle the demand for commercial sex called, community oriented policing (COP). According to reports, prostitution had become a pervasive and significant issue in the city and police officers were unable to keep up with all of the tickets, and they had to identify themselves as officers in
order to stop men from soliciting sex acts. By 2000, what had began as a community oriented policing initiative had developed into part of a federal program, called “Weed and Seed.” Weed and Seed programs are a community-based multiagency approach to law enforcement, crime prevention, and neighborhood restoration. In the Lumberton program, residents were surveyed in order to determined which crimes were the biggest threats to community safety, prostitution being one of them, and police would conduct investigations based on community responses. One of the subsequent street-level reverse sting operations from the Weed and Seed program occurred in 2005, and resulted in the arrest of 10 male sex buyers. Arrested offenders had their identities and images publicly released by law enforcement.

Key Sources

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings with Identity Disclosure:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Buyer Arrests:

Neighborhood Action:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

State North Carolina
Type City
Population 20928
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