Tempe, AZ

Tactics Used

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

Tempe is a city of approximately 162,000 residents, situated between Phoenix and Mesa in Maricopa County, Arizona. Like its neighbors, the city has experienced problems with prostitution and domestic minor sex trafficking.  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), who was also investigated for the murder of a previous girlfriend killed in 2006 and discovered in 2011.  Between 2012 and early 2013, police had shut down 24 businesses for violating prostitution ordinances, most if which were massage parlors serving as fronts for prostitution and more than 100 cases have been presented to the District Attorney’s office.

To address prostitution and its negative impact 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 johns.

In addition to street-level efforts, the city has also coordinated with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to conduct two 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 in to one of the facility’s rooms and began answering and posting ads for sex on Backpage.com. As johns 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 johns 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.

While Tempe currently imposes “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.

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 on a Tempe Police Department News release.

Key Partners

  • Tempe Police Department
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
  • Mesa Police Department
  • Homeland Security Investigations
  • Arizona Attorney General’s Office

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings and Shaming:

Web-Based Reverse Stings and Shaming:

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 161719
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