St. Petersburg, FL

Tactics Used

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

St. Petersburg is a city of over 260,000 residents, located along Florida’s western coast in Pinellas County. Prostitution and sex trafficking are well-documented problems in the city. In addition, local law enforcement have reported several cases of targeted assaults on and murders of individuals engaged in prostitution.

St. Petersburg was an “early adopter” of anti-demand tactics

St. Petersburg was one of the first cities in the U.S. to shift their main prostitution law enforcement focus from the “supply” to the  “demand” side of commercial sex markets.  In the mid-1970s, the city moved away from the traditional approach of being punitive toward providers and lenient toward buyers.  St. Petersburg conducted its first reverse sting in 1974, and in 1975 and 1976 spent the majority of its police resources devoted to prostitution toward arresting male customers in an effort to undermine the market by reducing demand. The city also shifted toward a primarily therapeutic/social service approach for those engaged in selling sex.  Between 1974 and 1976, 56% of the prostitution arrests in the city were of male buyers apprehended during reverse stings (118 arrested johns, 92 arrested women involved in prostitution).

Anecdotal evidence of effectiveness of comprehensive 1990s approach featuring demand

Other priorities were focused on in the 1980s, but by the 1990s the problems remained and there was a renewed interest in addressing prostitution.  The police department conducted a study of prostitution in order to develop a response and plan for analyzing whether it was effective.  The approach was designed according to community policing “problem solving” principles.  Recognizing that arresting women involved in prostitution was ineffective in reducing the illicit sex business and the crime and disorder surrounding it, the city focused on a multifaceted effort that featured tactics aimed at demand.  Reverse stings were conducted, and an informative letter that included information about sexually transmitted diseases was sent to the home address of all arrested johns.  Prostitution related calls for service from police decreased 24 percent between 1993 and 1994 (Minor, 1997).

Anti-demand efforts continue to the present

The St. Petersburg Police Department continue to conduct periodic reverse stings, and at times have seized and impounded the vehicles of individuals charged with solicitation.  Identities of arrestees are broadcast on public access television and printed in news outlets.  The city is one of about 20 in the U.S. to suspend driver’s licenses of johns. As in other Pinellas County communities, arrested johns are required to submit for sexually transmitted disease screening.

Pinellas County john school pilot program received St. Petersburg arrestees in 2002-2004

A john school was developed as a pilot program for Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, operating from 2002 to 2004.  Project HOPE (Healthy Options Promoting Esteem) had two components, one for the providers and one for the consumers (johns) of prostitution.  The program was piloted at two sites, and the Pinellas County site would receive johns from St. Petersburg in 2002-2004.    Participants could be referred to the program by the courts or corrections staff.  The program was found to have been effective overall, with a 0% recidivism rate, but to have had implementation problems (OPPAGA, 2004).  The program was not extended beyond the pilot period.

Reintroduction of John School and Introduction of Community Service Requirements

In early October 2015, the St. Petersburg Police Department circulated a press release indicating that they would begin implementing additional demand-reduction tactics associated with a newly legislated state law. Under this legislation:

1. The judge is required to assess the offender a civil penalty of $5,000 when convicted or when he enters a guilty plea.

2. Under the new law, “Johns” will be guilty of a 1st degree misdemeanor upon their first conviction. Their second violation will be treated as a 3rd degree felony and their third violation a 2nd degree felony.

3. In addition to the normal penalties imposed, once the person is convicted, the judge is required to order the offender to perform 100 hours of community service and to pay to attend an educational program about the harmful effects of prostitution and human trafficking.

4. Upon the offender’s second conviction or any subsequent convictions thereafter, the judge is required to sentence the offender to a minimum mandatory of 10 days in the county jail.

5. If a vehicle is used in the course of the violation and the offender is convicted of the crime, the judge is allowed to issue an order impounding or immobilizing of the vehicle for up to 60 days.


Key Partners

Key Sources

State Florida
Type City
Population 263255
Comments are closed.