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Peoria is a city in Maricopa and Yavapai counties in Arizona. Most of the city is located in Maricopa County, while a small portion in the north is in Yavapai County. It is a major suburb of Phoenix, and has a population of about 172,000 residents. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in May 2015, police arrested seven women for prostitution in areas of the North Valley and South Peoria. The Target Offender Unit — a plainclothes division at the Peoria Police Department — conducted the sting in response to recent citizen complaints of street-level prostitution in those areas.
To combat prostitution and sex trafficking in the area, local law enforcement agencies have targeted consumer-level demand for commercial sex, which provides the revenue stream driving all commercial sex and trafficking. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has collaborated with local municipalities to conduct reverse stings. A series of operations in 2003 arrested 72 women and sex buyers around the county. Officers targeted homes, massage parlors, and used female officers to draw men to three hotels. Names, ages, and hometowns of arrested sex buyers were reported in the news along with pictures of the arrestees and all the locations of the operations. Police have taken down child sex trafficking rings through web-based reverse stings.
In September 2022, the law enforcement agencies made 21 arrests around the Valley for child sex crimes and human trafficking. Operation “Back to Skool” was a Valley-wide initiative in which undercover detectives placed ads on websites known to be used for suspects seeking illegal sex acts. The 21 men arrested ranged from ages 23 to 62 years old, and their identities were disclosed in some news reports. The Scottsdale, Surprise, Goodyear, Peoria, and Glendale police departments, as well as Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, teamed up to conduct the web-based reverse sting.
Some local arrests of sex buyers have been the result of allegations of crimes against real victims, rather than the product of reverse stings using undercover police decoys. For example, in September 2018, the Peoria Police Department arrested a man who tried to pay a 14-year-old girl to sexually abuse her. The suspect approached a girl at a library near 85th and Peoria avenues, asked her age, and then offered to give her money for sex. He then gave the girl his phone number and the victim went home and told an adult. The girl then called Peoria police, who deployed detectives to text the suspect, pretending to be the 14-year-old. The man agreed to meet at a location in Peoria and was arrested when he appeared at the meeting place. He was booked on charges of attempted sexual conduct with a minor, attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, luring a minor for sexual exploitation, child sex trafficking, and attempted child sex trafficking.
IT-based tactics have been incorporated into the multi-site demand reduction operations coordinated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2011, the Cook County (IL) Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has been coordinating periodic reverse sting operations occurring simultaneously in multiple cities throughout the United States. The collaborative effort was initially called the “National Day of John Arrests,” and then in 2015 was renamed National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI). The coalition of agencies that participate in these coordinated enforcement efforts grew from eight to more than 100. The 19 NJSI operations from 2011 through 2021 have involved the collaboration of over 140 law enforcement agencies, and have collectively produced the arrests of more than 10,000 sex buyers. Since 2019, some of the NJSI operations have incorporated the use of decoy internet ads that connected to an AI bot, created by Childsafe.ai. The bot interacts with sex buyers to the point where it sends a deterrence message warning of the legal and social dangers of prostitution and sex trafficking.
Initially, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and eight other agencies utilized the bot, including the principle police departments and sheriff’s offices in Boston, MA; Des Moines, WA; McHenry County, IL; New York, NY; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Tarrant County, TX; and Upper Merion Township, PA. Across several subsequent NJSI operations, 18 cities and counties used the Childsafe.ai bots to combat demand.
The childsafe bot and other similar products can continuously scrape data or monitor “signal” from open source electronic communications, analyze the raw input, and flag messages as probably depicting a commercial sex offer or transaction. They also engage buyers in some form of interaction designed to deter individuals from attempting to purchase sex, at the present “point of purchase” moment as well as in the future. This approach seeks to disrupt (and ultimately collapse) commercial sex markets by reducing demand.
- Peoria Police Department
- Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://ktar.com/police-in-surprise-make-21-arrests-in-child-sex-trafficking-sting (2022)
- https://yourvalley.net/surprise-police-arrest-21-in-child-sex-trafficking-operation (2022)
- https://www.cookcountysheriff.org/national-sex-trafficking-sting-nets-1000-sex-buyers-pimpstraffickers (2017)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- “FBI: Phoenix Pimp Busted in Nationwide Child Prostitution Sting”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, June 29 2012.
- “2 Arrested, Suspected of Child Prostitution”, Arizona Republic, July 30 2012.
- “Inquiries Reveal Shadowy Valley Porn Industry”, Arizona Republic, November 27 2012.
- “Undercover Prostitute Sting Leads to Nearly 40 Arrests”, Arizona Republic, September 18 2012.
- “51 Arrested as Drug Probe Leads to Prostitution Ring”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, September 19 2012.
- “Arpaio’s Detectives Uncover East Valley Prostitution Ring”, Press Release, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, September 19 2012.
- http://www.pjstar.com/article/20150501/news (2015)