Milwaukee, WI

Tactics Used

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

Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin, with a population of over 600,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as serious local problems for decades. Related problems have included homicides and shootings of prostituted women, and pimps using trafficked children to rob johns.  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 now routinely conduct such operations, at times netting upwards of 28 johns in a single evening. In their efforts, police utilize an undercover female officer, who poses as a decoy. When men attempt to solicit sex from her, 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 would-be sex buyers, officers may also release offenders’ names and other identifying information to the local media.

In 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 a series of successful web stings, wherein officers post decoy advertisements selling sex to websites known for high levels of prostitution activity (like Craigslist or and then intercept johns as they respond and attempt to exchange money for sexual services. For their part, 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 prostitution.

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 johns from August to October, 2013, and reported that they planned to “shame” alleged buyers by releasing their information and mug shots to the public, and towing their cars. In addition, the city has been investigating whether johns will get “alternative treatment and education,” which may mean a john school is in their plans.  Since the initiative began in late August 2013, officials report seeing a decrease of 10% in street robberies.

In October 2018, a Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy was arrested in a prostitution sting operation at 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 “prostitute” was actually an undercover special agent.  The suspect answered a “women seeking men” ad placed by special agents “on a web page 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 determine 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 pleaded 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.

In 2016, one district within the city employed a strategy known as PREACH (Prostitution Resource and Enforcement Action with Community Help) to combat prostitution. The strategy includes creating databases that identify known customers and 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.

John School

Online reports say 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 clients’ 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:

Web Stings:

SOAP Orders:

Auto Seizure:


Neighborhood Action:

John School and Community Service:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Wisconsin
Type City
Population 602191
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