Portland, ME

Tactics Used

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

Portland is the largest city in Maine with a population of about 65,000, and is located on the southeast coast. For decades, police have been aware of prostitution occurring in the city and residents have complained to police about it.   More recently, instances of sex trafficking of adults and children have been uncovered by investigators.  Police responses to our National Assessment survey in 2009 said that they average about three street-level and three web-based reverse stings per year.  They also noted that most prostitution in the city has migrated online, and involves prostitution of women and girls from all over New England.  One of the women found murdered on Long Island by an apparent serial killer was from Portland, and would travel between Portland and the New York City area to sell sex.

State legislation to address customers of prostituted persons passed in the late 1970s, to solve the double standard of selling sex being illegal while buyers were not subject to any penalties.  The first reverse sting known to have occurred in the city was conducted in 1982, and similar operations have been conducted periodically since then.  For example, in 1999 a female police decoy was deployed in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood and made four arrests in a few hours. At around the same time, the Portland Police Department experimented with sending warning letters to the homes of owners of vehicles that were spotted idling in areas known for prostitution.

In 2007, a similar 5.5 hour street-level operation resulted in the arrest of 11 johns ranging in age from 18 to 60.  In June 2013, two men were arrested in a reversal, and their photos and identifiers were released to news outlets.  Investigators say the two men approached an undercover officer at the corner of Congress and Weymouth Streets, and that the operation was in response to complaints from the Parkside Neighborhood Association of female residents solicited in the street and “being followed by men in cars.”

In July 2013, another reverse sting was conducted in the Parkside area.  The 1.5 hour operation resulted in four arrests, and the photos and identifiers of the arrestees were offered to the media.  City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the police crackdown was a direct response to the PNA’s request for “stepped-up enforcement due to the negative impact of prostitution on their community.” Clegg again stated that women who live in the neighborhood complained that they were followed and propositioned by men seeking sex.

In mid-2012, the Portland Press Herald requested the names of all johns arrested in the city between 2008 and 2012, but the Portland Police Department declined to provide the information on the grounds that it did not know the outcomes of individual cases (i.e., whether or not they resulted in a conviction). When asked for comment about police’s hesitance to share this information, Parkside Neighborhood Association members were  “both puzzled and frustrated,” and noted that they would like law enforcement to issue news releases whenever a sex buyer is arrested.

In February 2015, Portland police released the names and arrest photos of four johns arrested during a web-based reverse sting in the city. When asked for comment about the investigation, the PPD Police Chief reported:

“Be very careful when you’re coming into this community or anywhere in Maine, cause there’s a lot of folks working hard on this and you may find yourself behind bars having to explain to your family how you put yourself in that situation.”

Key Partners

  • Portland Police Department
  • Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office
  • Parkside Neighborhood Association
  • Portland Press Herald

Key Sources

State Maine
Type City
Population 62825
Location
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