Passaic County, NJ

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

Passaic County, New Jersey is located just west of New York City and includes the cities of PassaicPaterson and Clifton. The county has a population of about 500,000.  Local residents and law enforcement officials have reported problems with prostitution in the cities and unincorporated areas of the county, both at street level and in and around adult-oriented businesses and storefronts serving as brothels (e.g., massage parlors and spas).  The associated crimes of the local sex trade have included the assault and robbery of sex buyers.  For example, in July, 2021, a male sex buyers who thought he was patronizing a prostituted woman at a Wayne motel got robbed, instead, after the woman let in a pair of armed companions – all of whom were later caught. The victim told police he’d met a woman at the motel on Route 23 for the purpose of paying her for sex. Soon after she arrived, the woman opened the door and let in two accomplices, both wearing hoods and masks. The man pulled a shotgun from the guitar case and pointed at the victim while the woman produced a baseball bat from the bag; both threatened him and demanded his valuables, and then fled.

To address these issues, municipal police within the county have conducted demand-reduction operations, and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office has collaborated with local police and federal agencies to conduct periodic reverse stings since at least 1995.  For example, Passaic PD has conducted long-term investigations of local massage parlors, bars, and other nightclubs suspected of prostitution and other illegal activities, at times “raiding” the businesses and arresting individuals involved in commercial sex sales. During raids conducted in the early 1990s, police arrested sex sellers and buyers indiscriminately, at times netting more johns than prostituted women and procurers combined. Formal reverse stings soon followed, with at least 10 street-level reversals conducted between 1995 and 2002.  In the city of Clifton,  indoor prostitution in local hotels has been identified as a substantial problem and has generated complaints to police from residents, and the Clifton Police Department has conducted at least one web-based reverse sting. The January 2014 reversal was part of a larger, ongoing investigation aimed at identifying and recovering prostituted and trafficked individuals, and arresting their pimps or traffickers. Over a two-month period, a total of sixteen people were arrested at two hotels  in a series of sting operations leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014 in New Jersey.

The Paterson Police Department and local public officials developed an aggressive, multi-pronged strategy to combat the issue beginning in the early 1990s, often “testing” innovative demand-driven tactics that would later be adopted by their peers in Passaic, South Hackensack, and North Bergen. For example, in 1993, the PPD was among the first departments in the region to announce that it would publicize the names of arrested johns; in 1998, Paterson councilman formally endorsed the shaming tactic, and announced that the city would periodically place notices in local newspapers with the names of individuals arrested for sex- and drug-related crimes.  In the mid- to late-1990s, the PPD considered the idea of sending “Dear John” letters to homes of individuals arrested for solicitation. In January 2004, city councilmen established an ordinance allowing for the temporary seizure of vehicles belonging to individuals arrested and charged with prostitution and drug-related offenses. In July, 2015 police in Paterson conducted a street-level reverse sting, and publicized the identities of the 13 arrested sex buyers.  In this operation a police officer posed as a prostitute on a street corner that had drawn “many complaints” from residents. In November 2017 an undercover prostitution sting targeting the demand for commercial sex yielded the arrest of 10 “Johns” from around the area. In April 2019 a crackdown on the city’s chronic problem with street prostitution produced 57 arrests, including 31 men who allegedly attempted to buy sex.  The sex buyers were residents of Paterson, Clifton, Hasbrouck Heights, Rochelle Park, North Bergen, Ho-Ho-Kus, Haledon, Hawthorne, Budd Lake, Maywood, Passaic and Newburgh, New York.  Subsequent reports included descriptions of informal neighborhood action against sex buyers, including residents of the area of Van Houten and Rosa Parks Boulevard combating the problem over the prior year by putting up “Just Say No to Prostitution” signs, installing bright lights in front of their homes, and personally confronting sex buyers picking up prostituting women in the neighborhood.

Key Sources

Brothel Raids Resulting in Sex Buyer Arrests:

Reverse Stings:

Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Proposed “Dear John” Letters:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

State New Jersey
Type County
Population 512607
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