Santa Barbara, 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

Santa Barbara is a city of approximately 88,000 residents, located on the Pacific coast of Santa Barbara County, California, near Goleta and Montecito. Incidents of prostitution and human trafficking in and around the city have been reported for years. For example, in 2010, the Santa Barbara Police Department, responding to reports of a kidnapping, discovered a 20-year-old pimp and 18-year-old woman at a local hotel. Although the pimp was initially arrested on charges of human trafficking and pandering, he ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge (coercion) and was sentenced to three years in prison; a restraining order barring him from contacting the woman was also issued. Similarly, in 2013, a pimp was arrested at a Santa Barbara hotel following a joint investigation by the FBI, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and SBPD. The man was charged with sex trafficking a 16-year-old girl, whom he had brought from the east coast. In January 2015, he was convicted of “two counts of human trafficking of a minor, along with the special allegation that he used force, fear, fraud, deceit and violence while trafficking [the] girl.” He was sentenced to 38 years to life in prison.

To curtail prostitution activity, the SBPD’s Vice Unit periodically arrests sex buyers. After conducting several operations in the spring of 2015, the SBPD released the names and mugshots of those recently arrested for soliciting prostitution. The details of the operation that led to their arrests were not disclosed, although a SBPD representative was quoted as saying its primary objective was to “identify victims of human trafficking who are often unwilling participants in the sex trade, and are sometimes minors.” Information about those arrested (both sex buyers and those being sold for sexual exploitation) were released to the public in a SBPD press release.

In November 2021, the Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force conducted a sting operation focusing on rescuing victims of human trafficking and reducing the demand for commercial sex that drives all sex trafficking. Three prostituted women were contacted and four sex buyers were arrested. The names of the people arrested were not immediately released due to ongoing investigations.

In February 2022, the Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force arrested 14 sex buyers while participating in the eighth annual “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild.” The operation focuses on rescuing human trafficking victims, identifying and arresting traffickers, disrupting the demand for vulnerable victims, and connecting victims with resources. Sting operations by the task force — comprised of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, and Santa Barbara and Santa Maria police departments — resulted in the arrests. Officers also identified two potential victims of sex trafficking and connected them to local resources through the Victim-Witness Program of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Key Partners

  • Santa Barbara Police Department
  • Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office
  • Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office
  • Santa Maria Police Department
  • Ventura County Sheriff’s Office

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 88255
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