Milwaukee, WI

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

Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin, with a population of roughly 570,000 residents. It is the largest city and county seat of Milwaukee County, WI. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as serious local problems for decades, generating numerous complaints to the police from residents and businesses. Related problems have included homicides and shootings of prostituted women, and sex traffickers/pimps using sexually exploited children to rob sex buyers.

Efforts to combat prostitution and sex trafficking have included those focused on reducing demand for commercial sex in the county. The Milwaukee Police Department began conducting street-level reverse stings as early as 1976, making the department among the first in the U.S. to specifically target demand for commercial sex. Officers have routinely conducted such operations since then, at times netting upwards of 28 sex buyers in a single evening. In their operations, police utilize an undercover female officer, posing as a prostituted woman. When suspected male sex buyers attempt to solicit sex from the undercover female officer, they are promptly arrested. Since 1990, the MPD reserves the right to impound arrestees’ vehicles, depending upon the circumstances of the case. As a warning to other potential and actual sex buyers, officers may also release offenders’ names and other identifying information to the local media.

In more recent years, law enforcement officials have further attempted to identify and apprehend sex buyers by instituting internet surveillance and encouraging city residents to engage in neighborhood watch programs. To this end, Milwaukee Police have conducted numerous successful web-based reverse stings, wherein officers post decoy commercial sex advertisements to websites known for high levels of prostitution activity (like or, intercepting sex buyers as they respond and attempt to exchange money for sexual activities. Milwaukee residents have created several neighborhood organizations that encourage self-policing (such as Merrill Park’s Residents Against Prostitution) and continue to report suspicious activities to police and government officials.

In June 2012, to address growing concerns following reports of minors involved in the city’s commercial sex market, the Milwaukee Police Department participated in the FBI’s Operation Cross Country VI, a three-day nationwide sweep targeting those suspected of engaging in the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. Milwaukee officers and federal agents recovered a total of 7 children in the local area– the highest number of any participating city– suggesting that sex trafficking networks may pose substantial problems for the city in coming years. In July 2013, a similar FBI operation recovered 10 underage victims of sex trafficking.

In mid-2013, the Milwaukee Police Department expressed a renewed commitment to attacking demand in an effort to reduce the impact of commercial sex in the city. They arrested 65 male sex buyers from August to October 2013 and reported that they planned to “shame” alleged buyers by releasing their identifying information and mug shots to the public and towing their vehicles. In addition, the city had been investigating whether buyers would receive “alternative treatment and education,” which suggested a “john school” was in their plans. Since the initiative began in late August 2013, officials reported seeing a decrease of 10% in street robberies, an improvement that they attributed to the demand reduction program.

In 2019, the city county approved an ordinance that raised the minimum fine for those caught soliciting a prostitute from $500 to $2,500. The maximum, regulated by state statute, stayed at $5,000. The name of the fine has also been changed, a move “designed to put more shame” on those arrested. It used to simply be a “loitering-soliciting” charge; now it includes the word “prostitute.” Another element of the ordinance was identity disclosure for sex buyers. The city hoped to use its media resources, including City Channel 25, to publicize the identities of those convicted of soliciting prostitution.

In October 2018, a Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputy was arrested in a prostitution sting operation at a hotel in downtown Milwaukee. The Deputy arranged to meet a prostituted woman there for sex. Prosecutors said it was a Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations sting operation and the prostituted woman was actually an undercover special agent. The suspect answered a “women seeking men” ad placed by special agents on a website known for prostitution, and there was an agreement made for a sexual act for money via text message. Agents also recorded a phone call arranging the meeting at the hotel, but the man didn’t show up. Police determined his identity and a special agent who used to work closely with the defendant listened to the recorded calls and positively identified the defendant’s voice. He was arrested and eventually plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in an agreement with the District Attorney’s Office and was sentenced to pay a $250 fine. He remained with the Sheriff’s Office pending an internal investigation.

Community-led demand reduction initiatives have also been implemented in Milwaukee. For example, in 2016, one district within the city employed a strategy known as PREACH (Prostitution Resource and Enforcement Action with Community Help) to combat prostitution and sex trafficking. The strategy included creating databases that identify known sex buyers and sex traffickers/pimps, coordinating with and providing information to the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, promoting awareness campaigns, strategically placing pole cameras and nuisance abatement vehicles, and sharing information about community resources.

Loss of employment is another consequence of purchasing sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in January 2012, a Milwaukee police officer was fired after internal investigators found that he solicited prostitution and lied about it. The case came to light after an officer was beaten by two men and his car set on fire, according to Fire and Police Commission records and court records. The two men both pleaded guilty to arson for setting fire to the man’s car. The man was off duty when the incident occurred in January 2011. The officer admitted that he picked up a woman who had asked him for a ride. She then pulled a knife out of her purse and demanded money. He told a detective he decided to pull to the side of the road and give the woman $25 or $30 from his pocket, in hopes she would get out of the car if he did. Instead, she hit him in the head with the knife and knocked him out of the car. Investigators determined that account to be false and that the officer had solicited sex from a prostituted woman and the car was set on fire to destroy DNA evidence. The internal investigation lasted more than a year, and the officer was fired at its conclusion.

In August 2013, Milwaukee County fired a prominent local labor attorney from a case after learning he had recently been ticketed for soliciting a prostituted woman. The man was a partner with the Milwaukee-based Hawks Quindel law firm. He was arrested in July when Milwaukee police saw him embracing a 26-year-old woman in a vehicle on W. Hadley St. The woman — who had crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia in her purse — said the two were getting ready to engage in commercial sex and had chosen that location so they would “not do this in front of any children.” The lawyer was issued a citation for loitering and soliciting prostitution and paid the fine. His employment with the Milwaukee County Board was terminated. The County had recently hired the man to conduct a review of the new state law reducing its power and budget and possibly the pay of supervisors. The man had also been an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee immigrants’ rights group. He had also worked for the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, the union representing Milwaukee teachers.

John School

Online reports state that since 2011, the Benedict Center has facilitated a restorative justice program for sex buyers in Milwaukee. Formally called the Community Intervention Program (CIP), the “john school” is an “alternative treatment program” for sex buyers in Milwaukee. The CIP works in partnership with the Community Prosecution Unit and the Sisters Project in MPD District 3, but any district can refer someone to participate. Most participants are apprehended in sting operations involving an undercover police officer posing as a prostituted woman. At the time of arrest, first-time offenders who are deemed low-risk and eligible to participate are either offered a pre-charge diversion or are charged with soliciting a prostitute and then offered deferred prosecution if they enroll in CIP. To successfully complete CIP, offenders need to sign a contract agreeing:

  • not to be rearrested throughout the six-month program
  • to pay $300 to participate
  • to attend all 10 accountability classes
  • to complete eight hours of community service

If they comply, they have no criminal charge on their record. The classes address the effects of the sex buyer’s behavior on themselves, their families, their communities, and the prostituted persons. Participants also learn about the risks associated with their behavior and explore what healthy relationships look like.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

SOAP Orders:

Auto Seizure:

Identity Disclosure:

Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action:

John School and Community Service:

Letters – Operation “Dear John:”

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, and Prostitution-Related CSAM in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Local Prostitution Ordinances:

State Wisconsin
Type City
Population 569330
Comments are closed.