Onondaga County, NY

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

Onondaga County is in upstate New York; its population center is the city of Syracuse. The county is home to approximately 479,000 residents. Prostitution and sex trafficking have posed persistent and visible problems in the area for decades. Among the issues reported are several documented cases of sex trafficking of both minors and adults and multiple cases of targeted rape and murder of prostituted women. Sex buyers have also been killed in the county during prostitution transactions. To address the issue, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments have developed a strategy that targets the underlying demand for commercial sex. Syracuse has conducted reverse stings up to six times per year in city areas identified by residents and neighborhood watch groups as “hotbeds” for prostitution.

Although law enforcement efforts have primarily targeted prostituted women and pimps (specifically those operating within adult-oriented businesses) rather than apprehending sex buyers, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) has conducted reverse stings targeting sex buyers. In September 1988, following a series of investigations into illegal activity at a Salina motel and truck stop, OCSO deputies sent a female police investigator undercover to stroll the facility’s parking lot. During the sting, the decoy was propositioned for acts of prostitution by five truckers. Each of the men was charged with solicitation. Following their arrests, all of the men’s names, ages, and hometowns were publicized by the Syracuse Post-Standard, which also noted that the female operative had recorded the solicitations on a hidden microphone during the operation.

In September 2015, thirty people were arrested in a sex trafficking sting at the New York State Fair. The investigation was a joint effort between the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, New York State Police, Homeland Security, FBI, and the Camillus and Geddes Police Department. The charges included sex trafficking, attempting to disseminate indecent material to a minor, prostitution, and promotion of prostitution. Three suspects were being monitored by law enforcement officers throughout the investigation. One was arrested after communicating online with a girl he believed to be 14 years old. Between August and October, the suspect tried to get the girl to visit him for sex, sent inappropriate photos of his genitals, and requested photos of the underage girl. He was arrested when he came from New Hampshire to Syracuse to have sex with the girl. Another man was also arrested and charged after he allegedly used the internet to entice a minor into having sex.

In March and July of 2016, reverse stings were conducted by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police that resulted in the arrest of eight people charged with patronizing a prostitute. The men were accused of going to hotels in Salina and agreeing to pay police decoys between $70 and $260 for sex. The operation occurred in response to complaints from residents about prostitution and human trafficking, according to the sheriff’s office. The names, ages, and home addresses of the arrestees were released to news outlets. One of the men arrested was a former Syracuse University dean, initially charged with third-degree patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted patronizing a prostitute.

Some cases of the local sex trade have involved child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often called “child pornography” in state criminal laws). In April 2020, detectives with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office Abused Persons Unit, along with the Town of DeWitt Police and Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office Special Victims Bureau, charged three men in connection with a prostitution and human trafficking investigation that began when a young girl was found alone in a motel room. One of the men had used social media to recruit a 12-year-old girl to perform sexual acts. He met the child and transported her to a motel in DeWitt, where he and two other men performed criminal sex acts on the child. He was indicted on predatory sexual assault against a child, criminal sexual act 1st degree, two counts of use of a child in a sexual performance, two counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child (CSAM), promoting prostitution in the 1st degree, and endangering the welfare of a child. The other two men were charged with patronizing a prostitute in the 1st degree, patronizing a prostitute in the 3rd degree, criminal sexual acts, endangering the welfare of a child, and rape. Names, ages, and hometowns of the arrestees were released publicly.

Key Partners

  • Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office
    • Abused Persons Unit
  • Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office
    • Special Victims Bureau
  • New York State Police
  • Homeland Security
  • FBI
  • Salina Police Department
  • Syracuse Police Department
  • Camillus Police Department
  • Geddes Police Department
  • Town of DeWitt Police Department

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings with Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests and Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

State New York
Type County
Population 479363
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