National City, California abuts San Diego, and has long been known for having a substantial problem with prostitution, particularly along a “strip” that crosses into San Diego. The National City Police Department (NCPD) began focusing on combating demand in the 1980s, by conducting reverse stings. Knowing that the strip and its associated prostitution activity crossed jurisdictional lines, the NCPD and the San Diego PD agreed to mutually allow each police department to pursue investigations and enforcement operations across the city boundary. Reverse sting operations are still conducted periodically; up until about 2008, they would conduct one every week or two, but that has been reduced due to budget restrictions. To maintain the effectiveness of decoys, the NCPD would borrow female officers from San Diego Harbor Police, the Chula Vista Police Department, and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and train them to serve as decoys.
Online reverse stings are also conducted. For example, in March 2019 detectives from National City Police Department collaborated with personnel from the San Diego Sheriff Department, Escondido Police Department, San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, San Diego County Probation, San Diego Police Department, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, California Department of Justice, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted an operation targeting individuals seeking prostitution via the internet. As a result of this enforcement effort, 7 men made arrangements over the internet to trade money for sex acts. These men went to an agreed location where they were contacted and arrested by law enforcement officers for the violation of California Penal Code 647(b)(1) – soliciting or agreeing to participate in any act of prostitution.
The city has also employed shaming tactics, seized the autos of arrestees, and public education efforts. Arrested johns have also been required to adhere to SOAP orders and to provide community service. Autos are seized pursuant to a municipal ordinance that allows for seizures if a vehicle is used to commit a crime within 1000 feet of a residence.
Shaming has been pursued by releasing arrestee identities to the San Diego Union Tribune, which may or may not run the story and provide the identifiers. In addition, the NCPD developed an innovative variation on shaming by applying institutional pressure to arrested sex buyers. For example, if police officers or teachers were arrested, the NCPD would notify their employers: law enforcement agencies and school districts. They formed a collaboration with the Navy that involved notification. The NCPD found that many johns were Navy personnel, estimating that they comprised up to 50 percent of sex buyers in the city (Sampson and Scott, 1999). Police considered asking the Navy to make off-limits the area known to be a center of street prostitution, but decided to look at other options since such a restriction would also inhibit legitimate activity in the area and hurt local businesses. Instead, they developed a procedure for notifying the Navy and involving them in applying sanctions for arrestees. Police would turn arrestees over to the Navy’s Shore Patrol, and their command would be notified to eliminate johns’ anonymity. They also attempted to educate and deter Navy men from seeking prostitution by developing a letter, with the Navy Base Safety Committee’s help, about the dangers and other negative consequences of commercial sex. The letter was distributed to all commands with the intent that the messages would be communicated to all Navy personnel. The Navy also invited the NCPD to give presentations about the dangers of prostitution at trainings and base orientations for personnel newly assigned there.
National Assessment Survey, Interviews and Site Visit
Reverse Stings and Auto Seizure:
- “22 Arrested During Prostitution Sting”, Los Angeles Times, June 5 1989.
- “Police Arrest 25 Men in Latest Vice Sweep”, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 25 1996.
- “Tackling Crime and Other Public-Safety Problems: Case Studies in Problem-Solving”, Rana Sampson & Michael S. Scott, Office of Computer-Oriented Policing, U.S. Department of Justice, 1999.
- “Prostitution Sting Nabs Eight Men”, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 16 1999.
- “Vehicle Seizure Policy Challenged”, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 7 2004.
- “Vehicles Seized from 8 Men in Sex Sting”, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 27 2004.
- “Owners Can Pay for Return of Autos”, San Diego Union-Tribune, March 6 2004.
- “National City Prostitution Sting Nets Arrests”, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 30 2005.
- “Prostitution Sting Leads to 12 Arrests”, San Diego Union-Tribune, December 17 2006.
- “City Renews Prostitution Abatement”, San Diego Union-Tribune, January 31 2007.
- https://www.kusi.com/29-arrests-made-during-operation-reclaim-and-rebuild-sex-trafficking-sting/ (2018)
- https://nixle.com/alert/7 men arrested online prostitution sting (2019)
- https://www.officer.com/command-hq/annual-valentines-day-online-prostitution-sting-nets-30-arrests (2021)
- https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/2021-02-12/annual-valentines-day-online-prostitution-sting-nets-30-arrests (2021)
- https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/san-diego-county-officers-arrest-30-men-in-online-prostitution-operation (2021)
- https://fox5sandiego.com/news/local-news/30-men-arrested-in-prostitution-sting/ (2021)
- “Police Plan to Publish Prostitution Case Names”, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 4 2003.
- “National City Eyes Cameras to Fight Crime”, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 8 2005.
- “Local Unions Against Public Surveillance in San Diego County”, ABC/KGTV 10, August 20 2007.
Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Teen Prostitution on Rise in California”, FOX News, January 27 2005.
- “Lured to Mexico, Young Girls Often Unable to Return”, ABC/KGTV 10, July 30 2009.
- “County Sees Rise in Underage Prostitution”, ABC/KGTV 10, November 9 2010.
- “Teenage Prostitution Targeted in East County”, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 13 2010.
- “Girls as Young as 12 Recruited by Prostitutes to Work Near Naval Base San Diego”, ABC/KGTV 10, November 20 2012.
- https://www.10news.com/police-see-an-increase-in-street-prostitution-after-classified-ad-website-seized (2019)
- https://www.10news.com/news/team-10/concerns-over-human-trafficking-at-national-city-motel (2021)