South Tucson, AZ

Tactics Used

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

South Tucson is a city of roughly 6,000 residents in Pima County, Arizona. It is surrounded by the larger city of Tucson. South Tucson has been described as a “city within a city”, an independently governed town embedded in metropolitan sprawl just a mile south of downtown Tucson. It collects taxes and elects its own mayor and City Council, has its own public works and sanitation departments, fire department, and its own court and police departments.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which provides grants for police agencies to hire additional officers, had ranked the South Tucson Police Department as the most troubled police department in Arizona, out of the 82 departments that applied for federal assistance in 2008-2009. The program’s ratings system measures crime rates and municipal finances. “It’s the highest combination of crime and poor fiscal health that exists out of all the applicants in the state,” said Gilbert Moore, a spokesman with the Department of Justice.

Residents and local law enforcement have reported problems with chronic street prostitution in some areas for over 30 years. Examples of serious crimes associated with commercial sex include the homicide of prostituted women. In 1997 a woman well-known to police in South Tucson, where she was arrested a number of times for prostitution, was found dead.  She was rolled in carpeting that was bound with wire, and placed at the bottom of a steep 100-foot embankment along Redington Road.

The community made a concerted effort to reduce the size and scope of the city’s commercial sex market in the late 1980s and early 1990s by conducting several large-scale “street sweeps.” During this period, South Tucson Police sent male and female officers undercover as decoy sex buyers and “sellers” and arrested those who attempted to solicit sex from them. These operations appear to have varied in scope– at times STPD officers ran drug and prostitution stings in parallel– but we do know that at least one traditional street-level reverse sting was conducted. In July 1992, twelve johns were arrested after they made an offer of money for sex to an undercover female officer posing as a decoy along South Fifth Avenue. Although their names were not disclosed to the public at the time, media reports stated that the arrestees “could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted.”

Key Partners

  • South Tucson Police Department
State Arizona
Type City
Population 5598
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