Sarasota, FL

Tactics Used

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

Sarasota is located on the southwestern coast of Florida’s Sarasota County near Bradenton, and has a population of approximately 53,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by law enforcement as substantial problems in the city, and residents have complained to police about prostitution in certain neighborhoods. At least five cases of homicide targeting sex sellers have occurred in the city, several of which are unsolved, and at least two convicted serial killers who targeted women selling sex have operated in the city and surrounding areas.

In response to such problems, police have targeted consumer-level demand for prostitution.  The Sarasota Police Department has conducted stings since 1982, and has conducted dozens of reverse stings, with the largest resulting in over thirty arrests. Law enforcement officials have also conducted web stings to target adults trolling the internet for commercial sex with adults and minors and have made dozens of arrests. Recent street-level operations have focused on different locations along North Tamiami Trail.  The Sarasota Police Department posts the mugshots of arrested johns and prostituted women on their website, and seized the vehicles of arrested sex buyers.  Some news reports have provided the full names, dates of birth, and home addresses of arrested johns. In July, 2019, twenty-five men were arrested during a four-day sting operation across Sarasota County, which focused on protecting children from online predators and human trafficking. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrested men between the ages of 19 and 65 on suspicion of solicitation, after they responded to a number of ads posted online and engaged in sexually explicit written and verbal conversations.  All of the arrestees traveled with the intent of having sex with a child.

In February 2014, a new program by the Sarasota Police Department was launched that will send letters to car owners who have been seen speaking to known sex sellers operating along the North Tamiami Trail.  The letter to the registered vehicle owners states:

“Your vehicle was observed on (this date) at an area within the city limits of Sarasota known for prostitution related crimes. The driver or occupant of your vehicle engaged in conversation with either: (1) a known prostitute (an individual who has been previously convicted of a violation of Florida States 796.07) or (2) an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a prostitute.”

In October 2014, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that only two “Dear John” letters had been sent since the adoption of the tactic earlier that year. When asked about the limited number of letters sent by police, a SPD representative reported that while the department is “still sending letters however they are few and far between… because of the proactivity by the Sarasota Police Department on the North Trail area,” adding that SPD officers arrested 73 johns between January 1 and October 14, 2014.

That same month, the SPD announced it had developed and would release a televised public service announcement warning local sex buyers that the department would continue to conduct reverse stings to arrest those soliciting sex in Sarasota. According to a local news affiliate:

“In a scene, you see a woman walking along a street. An officer’s voice says, ‘Is this a prostitute or a police officer? Do you think you can tell the difference? Roll the dice if you dare.'”

A news report from July 2017 included discussion of tactics used in Sarasota.  The chief assistant state attorney in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties said that that those arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Sarasota must attend a “john school,” a one-day class emphasizes direct consequences like sexually transmitted diseases as well as the suffering of trafficking victims. Sarasota also impounds the cars of the men police arrest on these stings, publishes press releases with johns pictures, and may send letters addressed to the vehicle’s owner that states that someone in the car was interacting with a prostitute or with an undercover officer posing as a prostitute.

In August 2020 another reverse sting conducted by the Sarasota Police Department resulted in the arrest of four men. This particular operation was conducted by a joint task force comprised of the Sarasota Police Department Narcotics Unit in addition to the Patrol Division. Like in previous stings, law enforcement focused on the well-known North Tamiami Trail, an area famous for solicitation. In this particular case, the names and ages of the men arrested were made public in addition to the charges they now have pending.

Key Partners

  • Sarasota Police Department
  • Bradenton Police Department
  • Manatee County Sheriff’s Office
  • Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office
  • Save Our Sarasota

Key Sources

State Florida
Type City
Population 53326
Location
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