Pennington County, MN

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

Pennington County is in northwestern Minnesota, about 50 miles east of Grand Forks. The population of the county is about 14,000 residents, over half of whom reside in the city of Thief River Falls. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the communities and unincorporated areas of Pennington County. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses.

Consumer-level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. For example, in April 2019 local law enforcement agencies participated in a task force operation that resulted in the arrest of dozens of people, who were booked on charges of felony solicitation of a minor or solicitation of prostitution under 16 years of age. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) announced that 47 people were arrested and faced felony charges for attempting to purchase access to sexually abuse children or trafficking victims. Suspects chatted on several social media platforms with undercover agents and investigators, who posed as minors or as sex buyers. Investigators arrested the suspects as they arrived at an arranged meeting place for an encounter. The names of all arrestees were released by the BCA several days after the arrests.  The 47 arrestees were booked on charges including felony solicitation of a minor or solicitation of prostitution under 16 years of age. Eleven people were booked on probable cause sex trafficking, promotion of prostitution.

The operation was carried out by personnel from 33 criminal justice agencies and was part of the ongoing work of the Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force. Many Task Force affiliate agencies lent resources to this particular effort, including the police departments of Howard Lake, Bemidji, Blaine, Brooklyn Park, Cambridge, Coon Rapids, Duluth, Maplewood, Owatonna, Rochester, Thief River Falls, and Upper Sioux, and the sheriff’s offices of Crow Wing, Kanabec, and Pope counties. Additional agencies provided expertise and resources including the Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Oakdale, Plymouth, St. Cloud, and Woodbury police departments, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Hennepin and Washington County attorney’s offices, and the BCA-led Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Several victim advocate organizations also provided services during victim recoveries, including Alexandria House, Breaking Free, and The Link.

Key Partners

  • Thief River Falls Police Department
  • Pennington County Sheriff’s Office
  • Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA)
    • Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
    • Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force
State Minnesota
Type County
Population 13780
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