Tuscaloosa, AL

Tactics Used

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

Tuscaloosa is a city of approximately 95,000 residents, located in west-central Alabama’s Tuscaloosa County. Prostitution has been identified by law enforcement as a problem in the city, and residents have complained to police about chronic prostitution in certain neighborhoods (e.g., the Alberta City area).  Indoor prostitution occurring in hotels and other venues has also generated complaints and police responses.

Among the problems associated with the local commercial sex market have been cases of child endangerment, in which men have taken children along when purchasing sex.  In one such case, a man took his nine-month-old son with him to a hotel where he had arranged to buy sex.  The woman’s pimp arrived and demanded more money, and when negotiations failed, began shooting at the sex buyer. The baby was not shot, but a bullet grazed the john’s head.

In their efforts to reduce commercial sex sales, the Tuscaloosa Police Department runs anti-prostitution details on a fairly regular basis. When interviewed by members of the local media, TPD officers have stated that they conduct both john stings (targeting sex buyers) and “jane” stings (targeting women selling sex) as it allows them to tackle the problem “from both ways.” The TPD has conducted street-level reverse stings since at least 1996. During these operations, both male and female officers have been sent undercover to pose as decoy sex sellers. When a john solicits the officer, they are arrested by a backup team.  Although the TPD did not initially provide details about the identities of individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses, it has provided offenders’ names and mugshots since 2010.

In June 2015, TPD officers announced the completion of a web-based reverse sting at a Tuscaloosa hotel. Eight johns were arrested during the operation after responding to decoy advertisements on a website known for prostitution activity. All of the men’s identities and arrest photos were publicized in press. When asked about the sting by the Birmingham News, a TPD representative stated:

“The Tuscaloosa Police Department understands that focus has to be put on arresting the men that solicit prostitution. We will continue to run these operations in the future and focus on both sides of prostitution and give help to those who are forced into prostitution or want to get out of the lifestyle they are currently involved in.”

In a similar investigation in early February 2016, eight men were arrested after responding to an online advertisement suggesting prostitution and arranging to meet what they thought was a woman selling sex– but was, in fact, an undercover officer– at a local hotel. The sting was conducted by the TPD, in collaboration with their peers at the Northport Police Department. In the days after the operation, the TPD posted the johns’ identities and mugshots to their official Facebook page with the following statement:

“The Tuscaloosa Police Department understands that focus has to be put on arresting the men that solicit prostitution. We will continue to run these operations in the future and focus on both sides of prostitution giving help to those who are forced into prostitution or want to get out of the lifestyle they are currently involved in.”

 

Nearly four dozen “sex buyers” were arrested in Tuscaloosa in January 2018 as part of a national sting operation targeting prostitution and sex trafficking. The Tuscaloosa Police Department ‘s Code Enforcement Unit was the only Alabama law enforcement team to take part in the National John’s Suppression Initiative. All 47 men arrested answered sex ads on Backpage.com or Craigslist, and then were arrested when they showed up at unnamed Tuscaloosa hotels.  The going rate locally was about $60 for 15 minutes, $100 for 30 minutes and $200 to $225 for an hour. The women have previously told police they can make about $1,000 a day when they go to Tuscaloosa, and usually stay about four days. The stings were carried out during the weekends of Jan. 12 and Jan. 19. The 47 men were arrested for soliciting prostitution. Some of them were also charged with additional crimes of unlawful possession of controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, pistol permit required, promoting prostitution, resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a child, receiving stolen property, obstruction justice by false identity and certain persons forbidden to possess a firearm. In addition to the arrests, police recovered eight guns and towed 44 vehicles.

In April 2018, another online reverse sting by Tuscaloosa police, ICE, and the Department of Homeland Security resulted in the arrest of four male sex buyers.

In August 2018, more than two dozen people were arrested as part of an effort to crackdown on prostitution in Tuscaloosa. The Tuscaloosa Police Department’s Code Enforcement Unit, along with officers from the Northport and University of Alabama police departments, participated in the 16th National Johns Suppression Initiative on Aug. 10-11 and Aug. 17-18. Those arrested faced charges of resisting arrest, carrying a concealed weapon, second-degree unlawful possession of marijuana and soliciting prostitution. All suspects were processed and taken to the Tuscaloosa County Jail where they were later released on bond.

In November, 2020 an undercover operation focused on the Tuscaloosa area netted 14 arrests for soliciting, including three men who investigators say sought to have sex with minors.  The operation was conducted by investigators with the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force and the Tuscaloosa Police Department’s Juvenile Division. Fourteen people were arrested on a total of 19 charges. Seven of the 19 charges were Class A and Class B felonies.

 

Key Partners

  • Tuscaloosa Police Department
  • Northport Police Department
  • ICE
  • Department of Homeland Security

Key Sources

State Alabama
Type City
Population 95334
Location
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