National City, CA

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

National City, a city of about 56,000 residents near San Diego, 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 have also been conducted. For example, in March 2019, detectives from the National City Police Department collaborated with personnel from the San Diego Sheriff”s 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 to conduct 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-upon 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 identity disclosure tactics, seized the vehicles of arrestees, and conducted public education efforts. Arrested sex buyers 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.

Identity disclosure 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 identity disclosure 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 sex buyers 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 sex buyers’ 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.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interviews and Site Visit

Reverse Stings and Auto Seizure:

Identity Disclosure:

  • “Police Plan to Publish Prostitution Case Names”, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 4 2003.


Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 55912
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