Tempe, AZ

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

Tempe is a city of approximately 190,000 residents, situated between Phoenix and Mesa in Maricopa County, Arizona. Like its neighbors, the city has experienced widespread and persistent problems with prostitution and sex trafficking (particularly of minors).  Between 2012 and early 2013, police had shut down 24 businesses for violating prostitution ordinances, most of which were massage parlors serving as fronts for prostitution and more than 100 cases had been presented to the District Attorney’s office. Among the problems associated with commercial sex in Tempe have been the assault and murder of prostituted women.  For example, in 2011 a man was arrested for murdering his prostituted “girlfriend” (i.e., he was her pimp, so she was actually his victim), who was also investigated for the murder of a previous “girlfriend” killed in 2006 and discovered in 2011.

To address prostitution and its numerous negative impacts on the community, the Tempe Police Department has conducted at least four street-level reverse stings. One such operation, conducted in December 2003, placed undercover female officers along the city’s troubled Apache Boulevard. Seven sex buyers were arrested after attempting to solicit sex from the officers. All had their names and other identifying information publicized by the local media. More recently, in July 2014, the TPD conducted a reverse sting at a local hotel near Priest Drive and arrested 16 sex buyers.

In addition to street-level efforts, the city has also coordinated with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to conduct large-scale, web-based reverse stings, at least one of which specifically targeted sex buyers. In September 2012, following reports from residents and business owners of chronic prostitution and other illegal activity occurring at a local hotel, MCSO deputies moved into one of the facility’s rooms and began answering and posting ads for sex on Backpage.com. As sex buyers responded to the listings, undercover female deputies arranged to meet the men at the facility. Upon arrival, “the suspects made contact with [the] undercover deputy, who secured an offer of sex for money and then used a code word as a signal for other deputies to storm the hotel room.”  At the end of the month-long investigation, the MCSO reported that they had arrested and charged five sex buyers with solicitation.  A similar, large-scale operation in 2013 led by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office used two female Tempe police officers as decoys, who posed as online teens being sexually exploited.  The operation resulted in 111 arrests in total, 30 of which intended to buy sex with trafficked children. In April 2014, police posted online ads for sex with girls as young as 15, and arrested six men who responded and appeared to buy sex.

In July 2019, twenty-five people in the Valley were arrested on child sex-trafficking charges in a multi-agency sting operation called Operation Summer Shield.  The arrests came after an undercover operation by the Tempe Police Department, the Mesa Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. The men arrested ranged in age from 19 to 63 years old, and they faced charges that include child sex trafficking, sexual abuse, luring of a minor for sexual exploitation, attempted sex conduct with a minor, furnishing harmful materials to a minor, and possession of dangerous drugs. Undercover officers and detectives had placed ads on various websites and apps used by people interested in illegal sex acts with children. The suspects are named and pictured in a Tempe Police Department News release.

In July 2021, a web-based reverse sting produced the arrest of 39 people suspected of paying for access to sexually abuse minors.  During the operation, undercover detectives placed ads on websites commonly used by suspects looking for illegal sex acts, according to documents from the Tempe Police Department. The suspects, whose ages ranged from 20 to 64, were caught when they reportedly solicited and brokered deals for various sex acts. Called the ‘Operation Behind the Mask,” the operation focused on reducing the demand behind child sex crimes and human trafficking. The Tempe Police Department partnered with the Phoenix Police Department, Mesa Police Department, Scottsdale Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the Attorney General’s Office. In November 2021, 30 people were arrested in Operation “Deja Boo” which targeted sex buyers involved in child sex trafficking and those with the intent of luring minors for sexual exploitation. The identities of those arrested were publicly disclosed. The Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, and Tempe police departments all participated in the operation.

In May 2022, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that an undercover operation targeting commercial sex and human trafficking led to 43 arrests. While most of the suspects were charged with prostitution, other counts stemming from the undercover “Spring Fling” operation include child sex trafficking, drugs, and misconduct involving weapons. In a press release, ICE said that the focus was on hotel prostitution and street prostitution enforcement, and the suspects were arrested when they allegedly solicited and/or brokered deals for various sex acts.  ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations collaborated with local police departments in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Gilbert, and Surprise, as well as the Arizona State University Police Department.

A large scale sex trafficking operation was conducted in the greater Phoenix area from January 30 through February 11, 2023, a time period with numerous large events occurring locally, including the Super Bowl, Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction, and others. Officials announced that 48 felony arrests and 300 misdemeanor arrests were made, including 120 people who were sex buyers. During the operation, over 100 officers from over 20 local, state, and federal agencies targeted adults trying to pay for sex with minors, online predators, and street prostitution in areas including Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe.

Tempe has imposed “order-out” restrictions on individuals repeatedly arrested for prostitution. Much like SOAP orders, city police may order a person to stay out of a specified place as a condition of his or her probation. Should he/she return to the area, he/she may be arrested and jailed for up to 30 days.

Loss of employment is another consequence of sex buying that has occurred in Tempe.  For example, in March 2007 an Assistant Coach with the Arizona Cardinals NFL team was fired four days after his arrest in a local police prostitution sting operation. The man had been a player in the NFL for 13 seasons and was hired by the Cardinals coach two months before he was terminated.  He had been arrested on the allegation that he had solicited an undercover Phoenix police officer posing as a prostituted person. He had been an assistant wide receivers and tight ends coach for the NY Jets in the prior season. In November 2021, an employee with an Arizona high school was arrested and accused of offering a minor cash in return for a sexual act. The man worked as the equipment manager in the athletic department at McClintock High School in Tempe. He was charged with one count of child sex trafficking and one count of money laundering. It is unclear whether the minor involved was a student at the school, according to news reports. The Tempe Union High School District said in a statement that the man had been terminated from employment and has not been on campus since then.

Key Partners

  • Tempe Police Department
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
  • Mesa Police Department
  • Homeland Security Investigations
  • Arizona Attorney General’s Office
  • Tempe Union High School District
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Phoenix Police Department
  • Scottsdale Police Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigations
  • Arizona Attorney Generals Office

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Loss of Employment:

Arrest of Sex Buyer, Identity Disclosure:

Background on 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 Arizona
Type City
Population 191607
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