Washtenaw County, MI

Tactics Used

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

Washtenaw County is located to the west of suburban Detroit.  It has a population of approximately 365,000, much of it centered in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Law enforcement agencies have conducted reverse stings to address the problem of prostitution in the county, resulting in several arrests for solicitation. Police can also seize the vehicles of arrested johns and require fines to be paid for their recovery.

In 2011, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office began posting the mugshots of arrested sex buyers on a new webpage intended to widely distribute their faces to the public. The photos are placed on the site after the men are arraigned. The effort, which targets the demand side of prostitution, is part of the Enforcement Against Streetwalking in Ypsilanti (EASY) initiative led by the WCSO, Ypsilanti Police Department, and Ypsilanti Township Police Department. Businesses and residents have long complained about prostitution in the East Michigan Avenue corridor, and the departments teamed up because their jurisdictional boundaries cut through the area.  Despite making hundreds of arrests, mostly of sex sellers, the agencies haven’t observed success in stemming the problem and are trying new approaches.

Local police more recently adopted a three-part approach in targeting johns. If caught since 2011, johns may have their cars impounded and must pay the county $750 to retrieve them. That money is used to cover overtime costs for deputies on the undercover sting operations.  Johns are also criminally charged and sent to a “john school” at which women who were former prostitutes discuss the hardships of their former life, similar to the victim-impact panel for drunken drivers.  The sting operations usually net around six to eight johns or prostituted persons, depending on who is being targeted, but are only run intermittently because of logistical and financial limitations.  In one case in 2019, an arrested sex buyer was ordered by a Washtenaw County judge to perform 150 hours of community service.

Also in 2011, EASY implemented a new program designed to help prostitution survivors exit the streets and offer resources “to turn their lives around.”  The program, which involves a collaboration between both departments, the judicial system and county social workers, was created after police regularly arrested the same repeat offenders.

On January 14, 2021, the Washtenaw County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney announced that, effective immediately, prostitution had been decriminalized within the county. The new policy states that no charges will be authorized against those engaged in “consensual sex work,” and that the policy applies to sex buyers as well as to prostituted persons. The de facto decriminalization does not apply to sex trafficking of either minors or adults.  While police could potentially continue to arrest sex buyers, since state law still prohibits prostitution, but it remains to be seen whether they will do so since they know the charges will be pursued by the prosecutor’s office.

Key Partners

  • Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office
  • Ypsilanti Police Department
  • Ypsilanti Township Police Department
State Michigan
Type County
Population 367601
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