Santa Maria, 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 Maria is a city of about 110,000 residents located near the Pacific Coast of central California, about 50 miles north of Santa Barbara.  Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by residents and police as problems within the city for decades.  For example, in October 2012, residents of northwest Santa Maria appeared at a town hall meeting and complained about prostitution in their neighborhoods.  Business owners have complained that nearby prostitution ruins their reputation and drives away customers.  They have found women engaged in acts of prostitution in their parking lots, and they have found syringes and used condoms on their property. In addition, cases of child sex trafficking have occurred in the city.

In late 2012 and early 2013, two street-level reverse stings were conducted in response to a robust and problematic commercial sex market in the city.  The Santa Maria Police Chief instructed investigators to conduct a sting operation specifically targeting those soliciting prostitution, based on community complaints that women and teenage girls walking to stores and schools had been propositioned by men loitering around businesses primarily in the northern part of town.  The operations were conducted in November 2012 and January 2013 at various locations on North Broadway, South Broadway and East Main Street.  Two undercover female officers served as decoys.   The November sting resulted in 10 arrested sex buyers; another 11 men were intercepted in January.  The Santa Maria Police Department organized the effort and collaborated with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office in planning and executing the reverse stings. When asked about the investigations, a SMPD representative commented that the operations were only the beginning of the agency’s effort to address prostitution. He encouraged citizens to continue to point out areas of the city in which prostitution is a problem.

In August 2017, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s detectives posted an ad online saying a woman would have sex for money at a Santa Maria hotel. Sheriff’s officials reported that eight men responded to the undercover detective’s ad offering sex for money, and when they showed up at the hotel, they were placed under arrest and face prostitution-related charges. Photos and information about the arrestee’s identities were publicly released.  The District Attorney’s Office and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office had recently secured $1.34 million in grant funding to combat human trafficking in the area, and said supply and demand for sex and underage sex are prevalent in the county.

In June, 2021, the Santa Maria Police Department Detective Bureau-Special Victims Unit conducted a Human Trafficking Operation in the city of Santa Maria. The goal was to identify and locate “sex buyers,” locate and assist victims of human trafficking in addition to identifying those who are also forcing victims into the trade.  During the operation, (6) male subjects were arrested for solicitation of prostitution. All were cited and released from the scene for a court appearance at a later date. The SVU Detectives were assisted by the Santa Maria Police Department Special Enforcement Team and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

In February, 2022, the Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force arrested 14 sex buyers while participating in the eight 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 between Feb. 9 and 12 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 Maria Police Department
    • Special Enforcement Team
    • Special Victims Unit
  • Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office
  • Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office
  • Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings; Disclosure of Sex Buyer Identities

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 109711
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