Traverse City, MI

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

Traverse City is a city of about 15,000 residents located in northern Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is the largest city in and government seat of Grand Traverse County. Prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation have been documented locally, including cases of child sex trafficking. There have also been drugs involved in the local commercial sex market.

Efforts to address these issues have included the use of tactics focusing on consumer-level demand. For example, in June 2016, officers with the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office’s Traverse Narcotics Team conducted an undercover prostitution sting that resulted in the arrests of five attempted sex buyers. Each of the suspected sex buyers arrested were identified by police through social media posts and intercepted at motels in undisclosed locations. All of the arrestees’ names were publicized in press in the days following their arrests. In April 2018, a man who attempted to buy sex with a child pleaded guilty to felony engagement of a minor in prostitution, and was sentenced to at least three years in prison. Traverse City police officers accused him of texting a 16-year-old girl “extremely explicit sexual messages” amid an attempt to hire her for a sexual encounter. The man had offered the girl $500 in exchange for sex and requested she provide nude images, according to a felony complaint filed in 13th Circuit Court.

In April and May 2018, Traverse City Police conducted a web-based reverse sting that resulted in the arrest of twelve men. Two detectives posed as prostituted women online and posted decoy female escort advertisements on several websites, garnering more than 60 responses through text messages. The ads prompted the defendants to travel to the hotel rooms. Most of the defendants told the undercover officers what services they were looking for and produced cash, and some began to take their clothes off before authorities waiting outside the room arrested them. In August 2018, some defendants entered pleas for engaging prostitution services and using computers to commit a crime. These Traverse City operations were part of a larger initiative of the Michigan State Police, multi-jurisdictional task force teams, sheriff’s offices, and city police departments collaborating to conduct enforcement operations across 19 counties in northern Michigan aimed at arresting individuals using the Internet to purchase sex. Between February and June, 35 arrests were made in seven counties during nine enforcement initiatives. Seventy criminal counts were evenly split between charges for solicitation for prostitution and for using a computer to commit a crime. The photos and identities of the arrested men were included in news releases. Other cities included in the large-scale collaboration were Alpena, CadillacHoughton LakeLewistonGaylord, and Petoskey. By November 2018, eleven men had pleaded guilty to a solicitation of prostitution misdemeanor charge and had any accompanying charges, including using a computer to commit a crime, dropped. Eight of those men received delayed sentences in which they were granted a year of probation as part of a plea deal, and included the possibility of having the charges dropped from the men’s records entirely (although law enforcement would still retain non-public record of the convictions). Defendants who pleaded guilty without a delayed sentence received only fines and an order to pay court costs.

Key Partners

  • Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office
    • Traverse Narcotics Team
  • Travis City Police Department
  • Michigan State Police

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Michigan
Type City
Population 15525
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