Maricopa County, AZ

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

Maricopa County is located in Southwestern Arizona and contains over 4.4 million residents. It is the 4th most populous county in the United States, the most populous in Arizona, and includes the state’s capital and largest city, Phoenix. Other noteworthy communities within the county include Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, and Tempe. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been well documented in the cities and surrounding areas of the county for decades, and have generated complaints to police and a wide range of additional crimes such as sexual assault, homicide, drug and weapons offenses, human smuggling, kidnapping, child endangerment, and related child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often referred to as “child pornography” in state laws). For example, in June 2018, a man was arrested by the Gilbert Police Department on suspicion of trying to arrange a meeting to have sexual contact with small children. Police arrested the man after undercover officers posing as parents of 2- and 3-year-old children corresponded with the man and arranged to meet him at a Mesa hotel. The suspect indicated he was interested in meeting the children to engage in sexual abuse, and sent an image of himself, as well as an image of a nude girl about 8-10 years old who was posed in a sexually explicit manner. The photo was used to confirm his identity. The suspect was charged with counts of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of a minor. In 2019, the head of a non-profit youth soccer team was arrested after he allegedly sex-trafficked two young children to help pay off his debts. He was charged with six counts related to “child prostitution,” according to court documents, including permitting a minor in his custody to engage in prostitution, receiving a benefit for placing a minor in the custody of someone for prostitution and transporting a minor for the purpose of prostitution. In August 2022, the four-day ‘Operation Back In Session’ resulted in the arrests of eight people for alleged child sex crimes in the greater Phoenix area. The multi-agency effort involved police in Avondale, Scottsdale, and Surprise, as well as a Homeland Security division in Scottsdale. The eight men were accused of trying to sexually exploit those who they believed to be minors. The suspects faced a variety of charges, including child sex trafficking, attempted sexual conduct with a minor, and attempted money laundering.

In an effort to address such crimes, demand reduction tactics have been used within the county.  For example, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office uses reverse stings and sting operations to arrest those engaged in prostitution, solicitation of prostituted persons, or running a “house of prostitution.” A series of operations in 2003 captured 72 women and their “clients” around the county. Officers targeted homes and massage parlors and used female officers to draw men to three hotels. Names, ages, and hometowns of arrested sex buyers were reported in the news along with pictures of the arrest and all the locations of the operations.

Police have been working on dismantling child prostitution sex rings that advertise online, by conducting web-based reverse stings. For example, in December 2013, two female detectives posed as 16-year-old girls available for sexual exploitation, soliciting via online ads. The MCSO arrested 30 men attempting to buy sex from the detectives, one of whom reportedly stated that he wanted to sexually abuse the two girls before going to his daughter’s 16th birthday party. In July 2019, twenty-five people in the Valley were arrested on child sex-trafficking charges in a multi-agency sting operation called Operation Summer Shield. The arrests came after an undercover operation by the Tempe Police Department, the Mesa Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. The men arrested ranged in age from 19 to 63 years old, and they faced charges that include child sex trafficking, sexual abuse, luring of a minor for sexual exploitation, attempted sexual conduct with a minor, furnishing harmful materials to a minor, and possession of dangerous drugs. Undercover officers and detectives had placed ads on various websites and apps used by people interested in illegal sex acts with children. The suspects are named and pictured on a Tempe Police Department News release. In December 2021 a Maricopa man was arrested for sexually assaulting and kidnapping a prostituted person.

In May 2021, the Phoenix Police Department carried out a reverse sting which resulted in the arrest of 47 men, whose names and pictures were then published online. The sting utilized “a storefront that was set up to look like a massage parlor, with detectives placing advertisements on websites, apps and local media commonly sought out by suspects seeking illegal sex acts,” according to 12News. Phoenix police explained that the purpose of the sting was to “reduce the demand for crimes that fuel sex trafficking.” A similar operation throughout Maricopa County in May 2022 produced the arrest of 43 people seeking to purchase sex from minors. In February 2022, a multi-agency sting led by the Phoenix Police Department resulted in the arrest of  118 people. The arrests involved prostitution, luring, pandering, and escort service violations. According to Fox 10, “One person was arrested after trying to meet up with a minor for a sexual encounter, but it was really law enforcement. Multiple possible traffickers were identified, and at least 70 people were offered help and services to get out of prostitution and human trafficking, police say.”

In September 2022, a collaborative operation resulted in 21 arrests around the Valley for child sex crimes and human trafficking. Operation “Back to Skool” was a Valley-wide initiative in which undercover detectives placed ads on websites known to be common for suspects seeking illegal sex acts. The 21 arrested men arrested ranged from ages 23 to 62 years old, and their identities were disclosed in some news reports. The Scottsdale, Goodyear, Peoria, and Glendale police departments, as well as Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals, and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office teamed up with Surprise police to conduct the reverse sting.

A large scale sex trafficking operation was conducted in the greater Phoenix area from January 30 through February 11, 2023, a time period with numerous large events occurring locally, including the Super Bowl, Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction, and others. Officials announced that 48 felony arrests and 300 misdemeanor arrests were made, including 120 people who were sex buyers. During the operation, over 100 officers targeted adults trying to pay for sex with minors, online predators, and street prostitution in areas including Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe.

The city of Tempe currently imposes “order-out” restrictions on individuals repeatedly arrested for prostitution. Much like SOAP orders, city police may order a person to stay out of a specified place as a condition of his or her probation. Should he/she return to the area, he/she may be arrested and jailed for up to 30 days.

Employment loss is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in 2014, a local high school teacher and church leader was caught trying to buy sex with a minor in a web-based reverse sting. After the arrest and publicity, he lost his position in the church, as well as contact with his family and his job as a teacher at Betty H. Fairfax High School. In September 2022, a Phoenix Police Department officer working out of the South Mountain Precinct in an administrative job was arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution. He was accused of paying a woman $100 for sexual intercourse at a hotel in Phoenix and was arrested and booked into jail. He was then released from jail and resigned from the Phoenix Police Department. His identity was disclosed to the public.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Employment Loss:

Background on Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Child Endangerment:

  • “Woman with Child Faces Prostitution Charge”, East Valley Tribune, September 3 2009.
  • “Police: Prostitute Left Daughter in Car to Meet Client”, FOX/KSAZ-TV 10, May 30 2013.
State Arizona
Type County
Population 4420568
Comments are closed.