San Bernardino County, CA

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

San Bernardino County is located in Southern California, and is included in the Riverside–San Bernardino–Ontario metropolitan statistical area (also known as the Inland Empire), and is part of the greater Los Angeles–Long Beach combined statistical area. The county has approximately 2.2 million residents, and contains the cities of VictorvilleSan BernardinoHesperia, Ontario, Fontana and Pomona.  Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as substantial problems throughout the county.

In an effort to combat consumer-level demand for commercial sex, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office has conducted numerous reverse stings, often in collaboration with municipal police departments. For example, in September 2013, deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, supported by officers from the Victorville Police Department, conducted a nine-hour sting using female “investigators” as decoys. Twelve male sex buyers were arrested as a result; all had their names, ages, and hometowns publicized in local media outlets.  In November 2015, VPD officers conducted a second street-level reversal that netted the arrests of nine sex buyers, whose names were not reported in press. A similar operation in 2016 produced the arrest of 8 sex buyers.

In June 2017, an undercover prostitute operation resulted in the arrest of sex buyers in an 8-hour period. Deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Victorville Station conducted the operation aimed at identifying prostitutes and those soliciting prostitutes in order to charge them with those crimes. Deputies working as decoy prostitutes arrested at least 13 male sex buyers, whose names were included in press releases.

In December, 2017, members of the San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force conducted a web-based reverse sting. Investigators posted a decoy advertisement on the online classified listing, posing as a female prostitute. During the operation, investigators received several phone calls from males who were interested in meeting to buy sex. Of all callers, eleven men made dates and met with undercover officers. All suspects were arrested and charged with PC647(b)(2) Solicitation of Prostitution. All suspects were transported to the West Valley Detention Center for booking.

In August, 2018, eight men were arrested at a local hotel in Hesperia. The in-call motel “john operation” was conducted by the San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force along with deputies from the Hesperia Police Department. The operation is part of an ongoing effort through heavy presence and enforcement, to suppress prostitution throughout the desert communities of San Bernardino County, by targeting purchasers. During the operation, undercover officers were deployed at a motel in the 12000 block of Main Street to pose as prostitutes through on-line advertisements. The names of the men arrested in this sting were not released at the time of initial news releases.

While police have released the identities of those arrested for soliciting as part of routine crime reporting for years, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office announced in January 2013 a new policy specifically designed to shame those who attempt to solicit sex.  The initiative, called the “Stop the John Project,” began full implementation in April 2013, when the District Attorney’s Office posted its first photograph of a convicted john.  The man had been arrested in September 2012 and convicted in February 2013.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, a $275 fine, HIV testing through the San Bernardino County Health Department, was ordered to complete a HIV education program (McMillan, 2013).  He was ordered to return to court on March 20 to learn his HIV test results.  In February 2014, the photos of five arrested sex buyers were posted on the Stop the John webpage.

The Stop-the-John Project would continue throughout the county as long as there is a demand for prostituted persons, according to news reports. “The biggest impact we can make on the johns that solicit prostitutes is to shame them publicly,” said San Bernardino County District Attorney, Michael Ramos. “This is the deterrent.”  The District Attorney’s Office will release the names and photographs of any man or woman convicted of solicitation in San Bernardino County, Ramos said.  “The message is simple,” Ramos said, “This is the wrong county to solicit sex in.”  A database listing those convicted can be viewed at the District Attorney’s web page here.

“We really have to attack the front end of this problem in human trafficking.  We’re doing a great job on the suppression side, putting these traffickers in prison. We are now changing the way we look at the young girls as victims. But really to stop the problem is the demand side of it. How do we hold these people responsible and stop it from happening in the first place?”[ Michael Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney, April 3 2013.  Source:  “San Bernardino Puts Mugshots of Prostitution ‘Johns’ on Website”, ABC/KABC-TV 7, April 3 2013. ]

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in November, 2015 a man who served as the human resources director for San Bernardino County resigned after his arrest in a reverse sting and consent publicity. A settlement allowed the sex buyer to be on paid administrative leave for at least six months, although we would not work for the county in any capacity, and his resignation became effective when that paid time ended. The man was previously arrested and in in Orange County Superior Court entered a guilty plea to engaging in prostitution, a misdemeanor. The sex buyer served 10 days of community service in lieu of jail time and was placed on three years’ probation. He was ordered to undergo AIDS testing and education and submit a DNA sample. His immediate job supervisor initially docked the man’s pay and notified him that any further missteps in his personal or professional life would result in immediate termination.  County supervisors later found out about the man’s arrest and conviction after the news was posted on a blog. A county spokesperson said in a statement that non-work related misdemeanors do not usually result in disciplinary action, but that this sex buyer was punished because of the nature of the incident and his position as head of human resources.

Key Partners

  • San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department
  • San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force
  • San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office
  • San Bernardino Police Department
  • Ontario Police Department
  • San Bernardino Unified School District Police
  • Hesperia Police Department
  • High Desert Detention Center
  • California State Parole
  • Office of Homeland Security
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Fired by Employer or Resigned Due to Arrest and/or Publicity:

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 California
Type County
Population 2195000
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