Stockton, 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

Stockton is a city with an approximate population of 322,000, located in central California, just south of Sacramento. Prostitution activity has been well-documented in the city, surrounding communities, and in other areas of the county. This activity, and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking. For example, in April 2021, a Stockton man was sentenced to 17 years in Federal prison for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a child. Stockton is reportedly a popular stop on a domestic trafficking circuit that also includes Las Vegas, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Sacramento. At least one prostituted woman has been murdered in the city.  In 1995, seven teenagers found a prostituting woman in downtown Stockton, drove her to an empty lot, gang-raped her, shot her in the shoulder, and then shot her in the head with a shotgun.

In response to complaints from businesses, residents, and community organizations, the Stockton Police Department and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department have conducted both web-based and street-level reverse stings at motels and hotels known to be used for prostitution. These “john missions” have individually led to the arrests of over 10 men soliciting prostitution from undercover female officers. Operations have also been conducted at the homes of those suspected of hosting prostitution rings. As prostitution activity tends to be localized to certain areas and streets, officers have at times relied on tips and complaints from local residents.

In May 2017, twenty-three people were arrested in a human trafficking investigation and prostitution sting. A three-month investigation into the website led Stockton police to discover that eight girls ranging in age from 14 to 17 were being trafficked for sex. The victims lured men to motels along the Interstate 5 corridor. The San Joaquin District Attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force said some of the ads on showed girls offering sexual acts for as little as $20. Police conducted a reverse sting at a motel, in an undisclosed location, in an unincorporated area of Stockton. Officers contacted 200 people who were soliciting sexual services online, and in person during the course of the operation. Twenty-one people were arrested for soliciting sexual services for money or loitering with the intent to solicit.  The operation was designed to combat the demand side of the ongoing human trafficking problem within San Joaquin County, according to the sheriff’s office statement in a Facebook post.  The identities of the 21 people who were arrested were listed in news reports.

Stockton created a program called the Special Prostitution Enforcement Reporting System (SPEARS), which encourages citizens to report the license plate number of vehicles involved in prostitution. The registered owner of the vehicle identified receives a letter saying the car was seen in an area known for prostitution. Until 2007, police reserved the right to seize the vehicles of arrestees, but the California Supreme Court ruled that police could only hold a vehicle for 48 hours after an arrest for soliciting. When asked about the ruling, Supreme Court judges stated that the city ordinance regulating auto seizures was too vaguely stated. Since then, many of California’s cities have resumed auto seizures under new ordinances.

In an effort to discourage sex buyers from reoffending, the Stockton Police Department has also maintained a policy of identity disclosure. In the mid-to-late 1990s, the SPD coordinated with local cable networks to create “John TV”, a weekly show that displayed the names and photos and convicted sex buyers to viewers in the Stockton area. While it is unclear if the show is still airing, the department has continued to release arrestees’ names and other identifying information in press releases and/or to the local media.

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 322020
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