Reno, NV

Tactics Used

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

Reno is the county seat of Washoe County, Nevada. The city has approximately 214,000 residents and is the most populous Nevada city outside of the Las Vegas metropolitan area.  Prostitution and sex trafficking are known to be widespread in the city and surrounding areas, and have been for decades; several assaults and murders of prostituted women have also been documented.  One case involved a pimp who murdered two prostituted women in the 1980s and 1990s.  In another, a 16-year-old girl was abducted in Bakersfield, California, and taken to Reno where she was forced into prostitution in a motel.  She tried to escape, but was assaulted and threatened with a knife and pepper spray.  The girl was forced to engage in prostitution and to pose nude for photographs. She again tried to escape and was again beaten and forced back into the room.  In another example, a prostituted women and an accomplice were charged with abducting and raped a child, and were extradited to California to face separate murder charges.  Other local problems include HIV-positive persons continuing to sell sex in Reno after being diagnosed.

The Reno Police Department has come to realize that neither prostitution or sex trafficking – and their associated problems – can be effectively addressed without attempting to combat demand for commercial sex. As such, the department has adopted several tactics that aim to reduce underlying demand and apprehend those who attempt to purchase sex in the community.

Reverse Stings:

RPD officers have conducted periodic reverse stings since at least 2001, if not earlier. Operations have been conducted at both street-level and by using the web. These stings typically yield between five and 15 arrests of men trying to buy sex. In January 2014, a web-based reversal resulted in the arrest of five johns. In January 2015, a street-level reversal similarly netted eight johns. Following both stings, the names and ages of the men arrested were released to the media. When asked about the impetus for conducting stings targeting buyers, a RPD representative stated:

“The Regional Street Enforcement Team believes impacting sex trafficking/exploitation begins with an aggressive campaign against the demand for illegal prostitution… [the] SET believes the supply of exploited victims will decrease if the demand can be impacted and reduced by conducting frequent operations.”

In cases during 2010-2013, the arrested men were issued misdemeanor solicitation citations, which carry a $500 fine. Those cited or arrested for solicitation for prostitution are also required to submit to blood testing for sexually transmitted diseases.  In a one year period in 2012-2013, the Reno PD conducted at least four reverse stings leading to the arrest of 28 sex buyers.  Reverse stings have continued since.  For example, in June 2019, the Reno Police Department Regional Street Enforcement Team conducted a sting targeting patrons of prostitutes seeking sex along the Fourth Street corridor and used undercover detectives as part of the operation.  Police arrested two male sex buyers and cited five, and their identities were included in news releases.

Law Enforcement and Community Collaboration:

The aforementioned Regional Street Enforcement Team, a task force involving the collaboration of  the Reno and Sparks Police Departments, and University of Nevada Reno Police Services, encourages tips and complaints about suspected prostitution activity from local residents.  The locations of enforcement actions such as reverse stings are driven to a large extent by community complaints. Information about illegal prostitution in Reno or Sparks can be reported to the SET Team at 775-334-3065, Secret Witness at 775-322-4900,, or by texting the tip to 847411 (TIP 411) keyword-SW.

John School:

Reno has not had a john school program, although there had been efforts to establish one, beginning in early 2012. Representatives of a 501c3 nonprofit (Awaken INC) had been meeting with police and prosecutors, and researching other john schools throughout the United States to determine local feasibility and what model would best fit local needs and resources.

In March 2017, a bill penalizing illegal sex buyers and sending them to rehabilitation programs was proposed.  First-time offenses were still misdemeanors under Assembly Bill 260, but people seeking illegal prostitution would also face a minimum fine of $400. The crime escalates up to a gross misdemeanor and at least a $1,300 fine for a third violation, as well as a $200 civil penalty per offense. Funds would go toward programs and enforcement. The bill allows suspended sentences for first-time offenders if they attend “john schools” where available.

In testimony support the john school bill, a representative of the Washoe County Health Department (WCHD) said that Nevada Revised Statutes 201.356 requires that a person arrested for prostitution or solicitation submit to an HIV test and provide proof of the test to the court. To further the goal of reaching high-risk people for testing who may not access services, WCHD has partnerships with the Regional Street Enforcement Team (SET) and the Reno Municipal Court to provide mandated HIV testing along with offering testing for other STDs during prostitution and solicitation stings. Referrals to additional services often occur for health care and social services. In addition, a sexual health course providing information on common STDs, HIV, and prevention methods are provided if ordered by a judge. The course has been provided for a fee to recover costs, to commercial sex workers, customers, and persons mandated by parole and probation. Washoe County Health District began providing the class when a community provider discontinued their involvement around 2005. Referrals to the course have been limited. Between 2005-2016, 13 males that have been involved in prostitution solicitation have completed the course.

The March 2017 news reports on the bill  mentioned a program in Washoe County funded through fees and relies on courts to order participants to attend. Victim impact panels similar to those used for certain DUI offenders were also discussed as possible programs to deter repeat offenses.


Key Partners

  • Regional Street Enforcement Team (which includes detectives from the Reno and Sparks Police Departments, University of Nevada, and Reno Police Services)
  • Reno Police Department
  • Sparks Police Department
  • Washoe County Sheriff’s Office
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Awaken INC
  • Washoe County Health Department

Key Sources

State Nevada
Type City
Population 214853
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