Paterson, NJ

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Paterson is a city of approximately 145,000 residents, located 20 miles east of Manhattan in Passaic County, New Jersey. Prostitution, both at street-level and within adult-oriented businesses, has been a chronic problem in the city since for at least two decades.  Cases of child sex trafficking are well documented in the city as well as prostitution of adults. Many of the prostitution operations are in response to many complaints received by police from concerned citizens and the issues that arise from collateral crime and quality of life violations.

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. According to The New York Times, “the first ads, which cost the department $2,500, appeared [in Bergen County’s] The Record and [Woodland Park’s] The Herald News and listed the names of about 600 people arrested between July 2005 and February 2006. Under the headline ‘Caveat Emptor’, the ads read:

“Be advised that if you attempt to purchase drugs or sex in the City of Paterson you will be arrested, jailed, and have your vehicle impounded. Your name will then appear in a future newspaper ad like those listed below.”

Although we do not know when Paterson Police conducted their first street-level reverse sting, it is clear that operations were conducted on a routine basis in the mid- to late-1990s, with evidence of john stings undertaken as early as 1993. Around this time, the PPD considered the idea of sending “Dear John” letters to homes of individuals arrested for solicitation, but it is unclear if the plan ever came to fruition.

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. Offenders may retrieve their vehicles after their arrest is processed, but are subject to a $1,500 fee.

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.  The Paterson Police Narcotics & Vice Division conducted the undercover operation in two city locations – the corner of Van Houten and Auburn, and the corner of E. 25th Street and 19th Avenue.  Identities of sex buyers were disclosed, and vehicles were seized by police.

In April 2018, a street-level reverse sting resulted in the arrest of 10 sex buyers. In October 2018,  a combined sting/reverse sting resulted in the arrest of 23 males, all charged with soliciting an undercover police officer for sex.  Their identities were included in press releases.

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 operation focused on Paterson’s notorious Van Houten Street area.  The crackdown began with undercover detectives posing as johns who arrested women who solicited them, and then used undercover officers posing as Prostituted persons to arrest suspected johns.  The sex buyers ranged in age from 26 to 68, and resided in 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.

In July, 2019, police arrested 50 men and women in another prostitution crackdown in the area of East 18th and Van Houten streets. Police received complaints from area residents that alleged prostitutes were soliciting sex from people walking and driving in the area in exchange for money at various times during the day and night. In two phases, police posed as “johns” and prostitutes to arrest those involved in the sex trade.  In the first phase, detectives posed as “johns” and were solicited by women loitering in the area. Police arrested 16 women in the crack down. In the second phase, detectives posed as prostituted women. Police arrested 34 men for trying to solicit sex from undercover officers. Twenty-four of those arrested were Paterson residents and the rest were from Hackensack, New York City, Englewood, Woodridge, Haledon, Passaic City, Totowa, and Edgewater.  olice said 14 were prostitutes, 27 were johns, and 9 were arrested for obstruction of governmental function charges.


Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings with Shaming, Vehicle Seizure:


Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Proposed “Dear John” Letters:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State New Jersey
Type City
Population 146545
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