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Palatka is a city of roughly 11,000 residents, located in Florida’s Putnam County, southwest of St. Augustine. Law enforcement and local residents have noted problems with street prostitution in the city for decades years; individuals attempting to purchase sex in Palatka have also reported being robbed. Sex trafficking has also been well documented locally. For example, in 2012, a Palatka resident pled guilty to sex trafficking an underage girl in nearby Gainesville.
Among the city’s efforts to reduce the presence and negative impacts of prostitution, the Palatka Police Department has conducted periodic reverse stings since at least 2002, if not earlier. Operations are conducted at street-level, using female undercover officers as decoys. Once arrested, sex buyers may be subject to SOAP orders, barring them from reentering areas of the city known for prostitution activity. Arrestees’ names are also occasionally publicized in media outlets. In April 2022, four men were arrested by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in a street-level reverse sting conducted in Palatka. Undercover officers at various locations in Palatka and East Palatka notified deputies of solicitors on the sidewalks, and then directed solicitors to a specific location where they were arrested. Each man was charged with soliciting for prostitution and booked into the Putnam County Jail. Their names and other identifying information were released to the press.
In late 2003, Palatka officials announced the establishment of a “focus group” for residents, business owners and city officials to address the city’s prostitution problem. The group met on a regular basis for several months, during which members brainstormed prostitution-reduction tactics that could be implemented. Media outlets reported that an auto seizure ordinance and extreme shaming tactics (i.e., having sex buyers hold up signs noting they’d been convicted of solicitation) were among the tactics discussed, but none appear to have been formally instituted.
Employment loss is another consequence of buying sex in Palatka. In August, 2014, a former candidate for Putnam County Sheriff resigned from his police position after he was arrested in a prostitution sting operation in St. Johns County. He had been arrested as a suspect in “Operation Summer Lovin’ which was launched in response to a rash of complaints the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office and St. Augustine Police Department had received about prostituted persons working out of a hotel and advertising services via social media. Undercover detectives placed decoy advertisements online and arrested 14 people over a four-day period. The Palatka officer began that position in 1997 and ascended the ranks to operations commander, which he left in 2011 for an unsuccessful bid for Putnam County Sheriff. He returned to the Palatka Police Department in January 2012 as a detective and was assigned to investigate persons and property crimes. The man was placed on administrative leave on a Saturday morning and submitted a brief resignation letter the following afternoon. Up to that point, he held a clear track record with his employer.
- Palatka Police Department
- Putnam County Sheriff’s Office
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Six Arrested for Solicitation,” Palatka Daily News, October 22 2002.
- “Dozen Arrested in Double Sting,” Palatka Daily News, May 15 2003.
- “Six Arrested in City Prostitution Sting,” Palatka Daily News, August 27 2005.
- “Three Charged in Prostitution Sting,” Palatka Daily News, October 12 2006.
- “Six Arrested for Soliciting Prostitution,” Palatka Daily News, May 2 2006.
- https://www.actionnewsjax.com/photos-4-men-arrested-prostitution-sting-putnam-county (2022)
- https://www.yahoo.com/video/photos-4-men-arrested-prostitution (2022)
- “New Program Targets Prostitutes, Customers,” Palatka Daily News, June 8 2001.
Neighborhood Action (with Proposed Auto Seizure):
- “Shame, Shame,” Palatka Daily News, January 6 2004.
- “Prostitution Focus Group Meets Today,” Palatka Daily News, February 3 2004.
- “Focus Group Interest Dims – Only Three Attend Meeting on Prostitution,” Palatka Daily News, June 8 2004.
Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.ocala.com/article/LK//news/ (2014)
- “Detective Arrested for Prostitution in St. Johns County”, NBC/WFGA-TV 12, August 18 2014.
- “More than a Dozen Hooked in Prostitution Sting”, St. Augustine Historic City News, August 18 2014.
- “Palatka Detective Charged in Prostitution Sting; 14 Arrested in Operation Summer Lovin’ in St. Johns County”, WJXT-TV 4, August 18 2014.
- “Palatka Police Detective Arrested in St. Johns County Operation Summer Lovin’ Sting”, St. Augustine Record, August 18 2014.
- “Palatka Detective Arrested in Prostitution Sting’, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, August 19 2014.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Police Target Prostitution,” Palatka Daily News, August 20 1999.
- “Undercover Agents Nab 5 in Ongoing Prostitution Problem,” Palatka Daily News, March 27 2000.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Arrests,” Palatka Daily News, July 3 2000.
- “Prostitution Ring Sting Hits Palatka,” Palatka Daily News, September 14 2000.
- “Prostitute Sting Nets 4 Arrests,” Palatka Daily News, August 24 2001.
- “Five Women Arrested on Prostitution, Drug Charges,” Palatka Daily News, August 31 2001.
- “STOP Team Work Leads to Two Arrests,” Palatka Daily News, June 25 2002.
- “Three Arrested during Prostitution Sting,” Palatka Daily News, May 10 2003.
- “Palatka Cracks down on Prostitution,” NBC/WTLV-TV 12, November 18 2003.
- “Officials: Prostitutes Less Common in Downtown Palatka,” Palatka Daily News, June 2 2005.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Three Arrests,” Palatka Daily News, October 31 2006.
- “Palatka Prostitution Sting Nets 6 Arrests,” NBC/WTLV-TV 12, August 31 2012.
- https://www.palatkadailynews.com/four-arrested-alleged-drug-prostitution-den-palatka (2022)