Mesa, AZ

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Mesa is a city of approximately 500,000 residents, located 20 miles east of Phoenix in Maricopa County, Arizona. Among the problems associated with local prostitution have been the serial killing and serial rapes targeting trafficked girls and women involved in prostitution.  For example, in 2011 a man was found guilty of raping two women offering prostitution, and murdering two others in Mesa. At least two cases of child sex trafficking have also been documented in the city. Prostitution and sex trafficking are regional problems, with numerous cases occurring in the nearby cities of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and throughout Maricopa County.

In an effort to reduce local demand for commercial sex, the Mesa Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office began conducting reverse stings in the city in 1982. Spurred by complaints from community members of reported prostitution in some of the city’s massage parlors, the Mesa Police Department conducted several reverse sting operations within massage parlors between 2003 and 2010. In these efforts, officers have arrested prostituted women and replaced them with undercover female officers. As men arrive for their “appointments” and offer money to the decoy in exchange for sexual services, they are arrested by police.

While the names and identities of offenders up until 2013 were not typically made public, arrestees could be subject to SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from entering areas of the city known for prostitution activity. The neighboring 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.

In December 2014, MPD officers conducted a web-based reverse sting targeting individuals attempting to purchase sex from minors. Police placed a decoy advertisement to a website known for commercial sex sales and arranged to meet the men who responded. Five male sex buyers were arrested as a result; all of the men’s names, arrest photos and other identifying information were released to the public. Each was charged with one count of child prostitution.  A similar web-based reversal in April 2015 netted five sex buyers after they attempted to buy sex from MPD undercover officers posing as “teenage prostitutes.” All of the offenders’ names and arrest photos were again publicized in press.  In 2016, a web-based operation resulted in the arrest of a man attempting to buy sex with a child.

In March 2018, 21 men were arrested as part of a Mesa police prostitution sting. Operation Rocket used officers and undercover detectives from various units within the department, who placed ads on websites commonly used by people seeking illegal sex acts. The men either solicited or brokered deals for various sex acts and were arrested when they showed up to the agreed-upon location, the department said.  The men, whose photos and identities were publicly released, ranged in age from 28 to 67 years old and all face charges related to soliciting prostitution.

In December 2018, Mesa police detectives posed as 16-year-old girls and advertised sexual services online.  Among the five men arrested was a Catholic priest assigned to an east Mesa church. Police said the men came to a Mesa motel at a predetermined time to purchase sex; all of the men agreed to buy sex even after being told the person they would purchase sex with was a minor, and they were then arrested and charged with child prostitution.

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 sex 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 March, 2021, six men were arrested in “Operation Leather Mitt,” a web-based sting conducted by the Mesa Police Department in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.


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Key Sources

State Arizona
Type City
Population 499720
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