Pinellas County, FL

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

Pinellas County covers parts of the Tampa Bay area and has a population of approximately 959,000 residents. The area has well-documented, persistent problems with prostitution and sex trafficking, as well as homicides and serial murders specifically targeting prostituted persons.

Pinellas County was an “early adopter” of anti-demand tactics:

St. Petersburg, FL, a city containing over one-fourth of Pinellas County’s population, was one of the first cities in the U.S. to shift their main prostitution law enforcement focus from the “supply” to the  “demand” side of commercial sex markets. In the mid-1970s, the city moved away from the traditional approach of being punitive toward prostituted people and lenient toward sex buyers. St. Petersburg conducted its first reverse sting in 1974, and in 1975 and 1976, spent the majority of its police resources devoted to enforcing prostitution law toward arresting male sex buyers in an effort to undermine the market by reducing consumer-level demand. The city also shifted toward a primarily therapeutic/social service approach for those sexually exploited in prostitution. Between 1974 and 1976, 56% of the prostitution arrests in the city were of male sex buyers apprehended during reverse stings (118 arrested male sex buyers, 92 arrested prostituted women).

The county continues to conduct reverse sting operations.  For example, in March, 2023, seven men were arrested in Pinellas County for allegedly paying an undercover adult officer to sexually abuse two female children. The men, ranging in age from 21 to 47, responded to online advertisements posted by undercover law enforcement officers, “offering sex or sex acts performed by two young teen girls.” The suspects each made contact with undercover officers and arranged to meet in person, according to deputies. The suspects then paid the adult for access to young teen girls for the purpose of sexual abuse. After making the payment and arranging to meet with the children, the suspects were arrested.  The suspects faced charges of human trafficking, traveling to meet a minor and unlawful use of two-way communication device. The identities of the arrested sex buyers were publicly disclosed.

Anecdotal evidence of effectiveness of comprehensive 1990s approach featuring demand:

Other priorities were focused on in the 1980s, but by the 1990s the problems remained and there was a renewed interest in addressing prostitution. The police department conducted a study of prostitution in order to develop a response and plan for analyzing whether it was effective. The approach was designed according to community policing “problem-solving” principles. Recognizing that arresting women involved in prostitution was ineffective in reducing the illicit sex business and the crime and disorder surrounding it, the city focused on a multifaceted effort that featured tactics aimed at demand. Reverse stings were conducted, and an informative letter that included information about sexually transmitted diseases was sent to the home address of all arrested sex buyers. Prostitution-related calls for service from police decreased by 24 percent between 1993 and 1994 (Minor, 1997).

Anti-demand efforts continue to the present:

The St. Petersburg Police Department continues to conduct periodic reverse stings, and at times, has seized and impounded the vehicles of individuals charged with solicitation. Identities of arrestees are broadcast on public access television and printed in news outlets. The city is one of about 20 in the U.S. to suspend driver’s licenses of sex buyers. As in other Pinellas County communities, arrested sex buyers are required to submit for sexually transmitted disease screening.

Pinellas County john school pilot program received St. Petersburg arrestees in 2002-2004

Pinellas County and neighboring Hillsborough County launched joint john school programs (named Project HOPE) on a pilot basis from 2002-2004. The program was piloted at two sites, and the Pinellas County site would receive sex buyers from St. Petersburg in 2002 until its discontinuation in 2004. When reviewed by the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the program was deemed beneficial but also criticized for uneven implementation at ground level. It is critical to note, however, that the program’s assessment did not include a formal evaluation of its impact on recidivism. The Governor of Florida vetoed funding for Project Hope after two years, and the program was discontinued in 2004. A report on the program and an assessment of its performance are available HERE. However, Hillsborough County still is served by a Tampa-based john school under the direction of the local non-profit Tampa Crossroads.

J.A.D.E. Program (“Johns” Awareness, Diversion, and Education)

Prior to 2004, Tampa Crossroads was responsible for Project H.O.P.E. in addition to two other john schools that they were and still are, operating: “Johns” Awareness, Diversion, and Education (J.A.D.E.). After Project HOPE was discontinued in 2004, Tampa Crossroads continued running the J.A.D.E. Program and as of July 1st, 2021, the program remains in operation. Currently, the Tampa-based program receives the majority of its participants through court referrals in Hillsborough County, FL, but accepts participants from outside counties as well. The program provides treatment and education for individuals, primarily men, who have been arrested for soliciting sex in Hillsborough County, FL. Sessions are held weekly, over the course of six weeks, on Wednesday evenings from 5-6pm. The program costs $350.00 and participants are responsible for paying program fees. Participant fees allow for therapeutic community programs for women and victims of sex trafficking to continue operating.

Reintroduction of John School and Introduction of Community Service Requirements

In early October 2015, the St. Petersburg Police Department circulated a press release indicating that they would begin implementing additional demand-reduction tactics associated with a newly legislated state law.

Key Partners

  • Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
  • Florida Department of Corrections
  • Tampa Crossroads

Key Sources

John School and Community Service:

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

“John TV”:


Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

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 Florida
Type County
Population 959107
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