Springfield is a city of about 150,000 residents, located 25 miles north of Hartford, Connecticut near Holyoke in south-central Massachusetts. Prostitution has been identified by residents, businesses, and local law enforcement as a longstanding problem in the area. Among other problems related to the city’s commercial sex market, several cases of targeted assault and murder of prostituted persons have been reported in the community.
Since at least 1989, the Springfield Police Department has conducted reverse stings targeting johns. In the early 1990s, city officials met with local business owners, residents, and law enforcement and outlined a strategy to combat growing prostitution activity in Springfield. Following (and informed by) these conversations, Springfield Police and the mayor’s office launched a “War on Johns” campaign. In fall 1992, officers conducted four street-level reversals in a three-week period. In December of that year, media outlets reported that the department had conducted six reverse stings in the previous two months. Following each of the operations, all of the offenders’ names were released to the public.
Around the same time, local residents and business owners also began targeting demand; in October 1992, the Springfield Union-News announced that some business owners had begun using surveillance cameras to document solicitation occurring near their storefronts. The businesses then shared the tapes– which often included footage of the license plates of solicitors– with the SPD. In May 1995, the Springfield Sunday Republican noted that some residents had begun posting anti-prostitution signs and distributing handouts that targeted johns who repeatedly “cruised” through their neighborhood.
The city has on several occasions also attempted to adopt an auto seizure policy, whereby law enforcement could impound cars used for the purposes of solicitation. Although city hall has successfully “passed” such an ordinance, it has reportedly stalled in state legislature on at least three occasions. Similarly, the SPD has expressed interest in instituting a diversion program for first-time offenders convicted of prostitution and solicitation. When asked about a 2007 proposed state budget amendment that would set aside funds for such a program (for both buyers and sellers of sex), a SPD representative commented:
“Prostitution, where they are in a neighborhood, because they are drug dependent, they attract drug dealers. The drug dealers then set up shop where the prostitutes are and then other drug dependent people will come in in droves… Nothing but good can come from [the program]. You take a first-time offender off the street, you get her help, and that will take her off the street from buying drugs so you’ll see crime go down.”
For several years Springfield Police had moved away from demand-reduction tactics in favor of arresting prostituted women. The SPD conducted several successful street-level reversals in 2012, but did not target johns for about five years. Between January 2013 and September 2014, the New England Center of Investigative Reporting documented 107 prostitution arrests in the city– all of whom were charged with “being prostitutes.” When asked about the shift in strategy, a SPD representative noted that the department has struggled with logistical issues (timing, weather, lack of female agents to act as decoys) that have prevented them from conducting reverse stings. He added that johns are still “picked up” in sweeps if caught with a prostituted person.
In November 2017, city and county officials announced the formation of a county-wide effort to combat prostitution and human trafficking by targeting those who seek sex for money rather than those who supply it. Officials pledged that that the latest effort to curb prostitution will be different from those prior in two ways. The first is it will focus on demand – the men who come to the city seeking to buy sex – rather than men and women who supply it. The second is the enforcement will be continuous, and not something done occasionally like prior anti-prostitution sweeps. The new approach, named the Human Trafficking Enforcement and Education Initiative, was announced in a press conference at the South End Community Center in Springfield by the Hampden County District Attorney, Hampden County Sheriff, and Springfield Mayor. The prosecution will be reserved for the customers, and anyone arrested in Springfield for soliciting prostitution will have their name and photo publicized in the press. In September 2018, Springfield police arrested 13 men during a reverse sting in the areas of Locust Street and Palmer Avenue as well as Main and Gardner Streets, and their identities were disclosed in news releases.
In November 2017, it was also announced that the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office is forming a “john school,” a 4-hour court-mandated program for anyone convicted of soliciting sex for money. Men arrested for soliciting sex in Springfield could end up in the CARD (Community Approach to Reduce Demand) program, operated by Spectrum Health Systems. Since it was introduced by the Worcester Police Department in 2015, through November 2017, 115 men had completed the class and none had been arrested again for soliciting sex in Worcester. The classes include presentations about sexually transmitted diseases, the impact prostitution has on neighborhoods and stories from survivors of sexual exploitation. The Hampden County Sheriff said the classes will be held at the jail in Ludlow, MA.
In May 2019, Springfield Police reported that they had arrested 84 men for solicitation and 24 women for prostitution between 2017 and early 2019. The most recent reverse sting produced the arrest of six men in late April-early May, 2019. Police reported that over the past 10 years, prostitution in Springfield has been on the decline, and that by focusing on arresting the men, it sends a message of intolerance which deters others from trying to solicit sex.
- Springfield Police Department
- Hampden County District Attorney
- Hampden County Sheriff’s Department
- Community Approach to Reduce Demand (CARD) Program
Street-Level Reverse Stings and Shaming:
- “Springfield Police Crack down on Suspected Prostitutes, Clients”, Springfield Union-News, August 19 1989.
- “Police Arrest ‘Johns’”, Springfield Union-News, October 4 1991.
- “Police, Residents Team up in Fight against Prostitution”, Springfield Union-News, October 9 1992.
- “Police Charge 10 in Anti-John ‘Sting’”, Springfield Sunday Republican, October 11 1992.
- “3 Pay Fines in Prostitution Sting”, Springfield Union-News, October 15 1992.
- “9 Nabbed in War on Johns”, Springfield Sunday Republican, October 18 1992.
- “‘Region Briefs; Johns’ Arrested: Springfield”, Springfield Union-News, October 19 1992.
- “More Arrested as ‘Johns’; Undercover Sting in Downtown Area Nets 12 Men”, Springfield Union-News, October 19 1992.
- “7 More Men Charged with Soliciting for Sex”, Springfield Union-News, October 26 1992.
- “‘John’ Suspect Pays Court Costs; Cases Continued”, Springfield Union-News, October 27 1992.
- “Police Sting Captures 4 in War on Johns”, Springfield Union-News, October 31 1992.
- “Police Arrest 7 as ‘Johns’; Anti-Vice Operation Continues”, Springfield Sunday Republican, November 1 1992.
- “3 Plead Guilty to Soliciting Sex”, Springfield Union-News, November 3 1992.
- “4 More Johns Charged in Anti-Prostitution Drive”, Springfield Union-News, December 2 1992.
- “Sting Operation Nets Guilty Plea”, Springfield Union-News, December 3 1992.
- “5 Plead Guilty to Seeking Prostitutes”, Springfield Union-News, January 7 1993.
- “12 ‘Johns’ Arrested in Sting”, Springfield Union-News, May 15 1993.
- “Police & Courts; Springfield; Five Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Springfield Union-News, August 2 1996.
- “‘John’ Sting Nets 5 in Springfield”, Springfield Union-News, October 30 2002.
- “Briefs; Springfield; 6 Men Arrested in Prostitution Sweep”, Springfield Republican, July 7 2003.
- “Police & Courts; Springfield; Prostitution Sweep”, Springfield Sunday Republican, May 9 2004.
- “12 Arrested in Prostitution Sweep”, Springfield Republican, December 10 2004.
- “5 People Arrested in Springfield During Undercover Prostitution Sweep”, Springfield Republican, August 7 2008.
- “Police Charge 3 Men from Springfield, 1 from Chicopee and 1 from Wales with Soliciting Sex from Undercover Cops”, Springfield Republican, May 26 2009.
- “Springfield Police Arrest 3 Men in Prostitution Sting on South Main Street”, Springfield Republican, September 25 2009.
- “Springfield Police Arrest 5 Men and a Woman in Prostitution Sting in South End”, Springfield Republican, June 25 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting by Vice Control Officers in Springfield Yields Arrest of 5 Suspects”, Springfield Republican, July 1 2010.
- “4 Springfield Men Arrested in South End Prostitution Sting”, Springfield Republican, July 8 2010.
- “Springfield Police Arrest 4 Men in South End Prostitution Sting”, Springfield Republican, July 19 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting in Springfield’s South End Yields Arrests of 2 City Men, 1 Man from Wales”, Springfield Republican, July 30 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting in Springfield’s South End Yields Arrest of 5 Men”, Springfield Republican, August 5 2010.
- “Springfield Police Arrest 5 Men for Soliciting Sex for Money in South End Prostitution Sting”, Springfield Republican, September 3 2010.
- “‘Blue Heat’ on the Street: Springfield Police Make 50 Arrests in 24 Hours”, Springfield Republican, October 9 2010.
- “Anti-Prostitution Sweep in Springfield’s South End Snares 4 Men Looking to Pay for Sex”, Springfield Republican, March 25 2011.
- “Undercover Prostitution Stings in Springfield’s South End Yields Arrests of 13 Would-Be Customers, Including 7 from Outside City”, Springfield Republican, September 23 2011.
- “Anti-Prostitution Sweep Nets 5 ‘Johns’ in Springfield’s South End”, Springfield Republican, February 6 2012.
- “Springfield Sting, with Female Police Detective Posing as Prostitute in South End, Yields Arrests of 11 Men”, Springfield Republican, April 24 2012.
- “Alleged Prostitutes, Johns Arrested in Springfield Sting Operation”, WWLP-TV 22, May 11 2012.
- “Springfield Police Prostitution Sting Yields 9 Arrests”, Springfield Republican, June 15 2012.
- “Springfield Police Nab 3 Men for Alleged Sex Crimes in City’s South End”, Springfield Republican, September 11 2012.
- “Springfield Police Arrest Johns in Prostitution Stings”, ABC/WGGB-TV 40, October 17 2012.
- “Gender Divide in Prostitution Arrests”, Worcester Telegram, October 5 2014.
- https://www.wwlp.com/news/crime/13-men-arrested-for-soliciting-prostitution-in-springfield (2018)
- https://www.westernmassnews.com/news/13-arrested-following-prostitution-investigation-in-springfield (2018)
- https://www.westernmassnews.com/springfield-prostitution-arrests/ (2018)
- http://www.bostonherald.com/news/alleged_john_offered_food_stamps_for_sex (2018)
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- https://www.wwlp.com/hampden-county/over-80-men-arrested-for-solicitation-prostitution-springfield since2017 (2019)
- “Plan Would Shame Clients of Prostitutes”, Springfield Union-News, November 19 2002.
- “South End Videotapes Chase Away Prostitutes”, Springfield Union-News, October 10 1992.