West Palm Beach is a city of approximately 100,000 residents, located in Palm Beach County in southeastern Florida. Prostitution and sex trafficking of minors are well-documented, longstanding local problems, and there have been cases of murderers and serial rapists specifically targeting individuals selling sex.
The city was one of the nation’s “early adopters” of tactics that targeted the underlying demand for prostitution. The West Palm Beach Police Department began conducting reverse stings in 1976, using undercover female officers as decoys. Large scale street-level reversals were still conducted on a routine basis though about 2013, and some yielded over 100 “johns” arrested in a single operation. In more recent street reverse stings (e.g., in 2018), less than 10 sex buyers have been arrested in each street-level reverse sting, which are usually very localized, use one decoy, and last a few hours.
While most of the operations have been street-level, WPB police have conducted web-based reverse stings. For example, in July 2017 police arrested two men in a crackdown on prostitution in West Palm Beach in which Backpage and Craigslist were used to solicit sex for cash. In at least two cases, police utilized a hotel on South Australian Avenue.
City police began releasing the names of arrested johns in the 1986. The practice has continued steadily since then, although it is perhaps most associated with former Mayor Nancy Graham who, in 1992, took out a formal advertisement in a local newspaper with the names and other identifying information of recently arrested sex buyers. Around the same time, the city began experimenting with license suspension and auto seizure as punishment for intercepted johns.
In 1991, West Palm Beach established one of the first john schools in the United States, four years before the launch of San Francisco‘s First Offender Prostitution Program. Its current incarnation, the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) Program, is administered by the West Palm Beach Police Department; it is limited to first-time offenders, and includes a mandatory health education course.
Following a reverse sting in 1993, a Palm Beach County Judge meted out the following penalties for charges of solicitation:
- Six months’ probation at $40 per month;
- Successful completion of the Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) Program;
- Attend class
- Take an HIV/sexually transmitted diseases blood test
- Pay $25 to see a movie about safe sex
- Payment of $175 in court costs; and
- Completion of a minimum of eight hours of community service
In February 2016, following the completion of a sting, media outlets interviewed the PIPE program’s founder, who suggested that between 2000 and 2015 “more than 3,700 first time offenders” had completed the john school course “and only 22 have re-offended.”
In May 2018, two street-level reverse stings produced seven arrests.
- West Plam Beach Police Department
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
- Neighborhood watchdong groups
- National Assessment Survey and Interview
- John School:
- Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) – Official Site
- “Prostitution Prevention Program Hooks Johns”, Palm Beach Post, October 18 2000.
- “West Palm Beach Class Educates on the Dangers of Trading Money for Sex”, Palm Beach Post, December 26 2009.
- “To Stop Johns, West Palm Beach Program Tells Truth About Prostitution”, Palm Beach Post, February 23 2013.
- “Undercover Prostitution Sting Nets 7 Arrests in West Palm Beach,” NBC/WPTV-TV 5, February 11 2016.
- Reverse Stings:
- “Prostitute Patrons Being Arrested”, Palm Beach Daily News, June 24 1976.
- “Decoy Prostitutes Police Entrapment?”, Palm Beach Daily News , July 4 1976.
- “Prostitution Crackdown Nets 127 Men”, Palm Beach Post, March 8 1986.
- “Chief: Prostitution Raids to Continue”, Miami Herald, March 27 1986.
- “9 More Plead Guilty in Sex Solicitation Sting”, Palm Beach Post, April 16 1986.
- “74 Arrested for Soliciting Sex”, Miami Herald, September 18 1987.
- “113 People Arrested in 3-Day Prostitution Sweep in West Palm”, Miami Herald, February 14 1989.
- “100 Arrested in Prostitution Sweep”, Palm Beach Post, September 24 1989.
- “56 Men Arrested in Sting; Mayor on Scene for Prostitution Sweep”, Palm Beach Post, November 21 1992.
- “Johns Must Pay $250 or Spend Night in Jail”, Palm Beach Post, December 16 1992.
- “24 Accused Johns Can’t Pay $250, Spend Night in Jail”, Palm Beach Post, January 10 1993.
- “Teacher Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Palm Beach Post, January 12 1993.
- “Prostitution Arrests Down as Johns Play It Safe”, Palm Beach Post, March 6 1993.
- “Hooker Decoys Still Lure Men, Though Fewer”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, April 3 1993.
- “Prostitution-Sting Suspect Asks State to Delay His Firing”, Palm Beach Post, April 8 1993.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, September 3 1994.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, February 24 1995.
- “County Agency Attorney Arrested in Hooker Sting”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, June 30 1995.
- “Sunrise Officer Arrested; Man Allegedly Solicited Prostitute”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, July 22 1998.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, May 27 2000.
- “West Palm Beach”, Palm Beach Post, July 25 2000.
- “West Palm Beach Vice Sweep Nets 122 Arrests in 5 Days”, Palm Beach Post, December 11 2001.
- “Founder of PSL Church Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Fort Pierce Hometown News, November 9 2007.
- “VIDEO: West Palm Beach Police Conduct Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WPBF-TV 25, September 28 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting in Suburban West Palm Beach Lands 26 in Jail”, Palm Beach Post, January 28 2011.
- “17 Arrested in West Palm Beach Prostitution Sting”, Palm Beach Post, February 19 2011.
- “17 Arrested in West Palm Beach Prostitution Sting”, Palm Beach Post, July 8 2011.
- “West Palm Beach Officer Dragged 100 Feet by Car”, Palm Beach Post, April 14 2012.
- “Prostitution Sting in West Palm Leads to 10 Arrests”, Palm Beach Post, March 12 2013.
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime–law/latest-west-palm-beach-prostitution-sting-leads-five-men-arrest0s/ (2017)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/local/new-west-palm-police-arrest-nine-prostitution-stings/ (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/local/breaking-four-arrested-west-palm-beach-prostitution-sting (2018)
- https://www.wptv.com/palm-beach-county/three-arrested-west-palm-beach-police-human-trafficking-prostitution-bust (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime–law/three-arrested-human-trafficking-prostitution-charges-west-palm/ (2018)
- http://www.wflx.com/story/3-arrested-in-trafficking-prostitution-bust (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/20181023/west-palm-prostitution-sting-nets-5-arrests (2018)
- Web-Based Reverse Sting:
- “Mayor Wants to Take Out Ads Exposing Identities of Prostitutes’ Clients”, Chicago Tribune, November 29 1992.
- “Newspaper Ad Names Suspects”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, December 7 1992.
- “Cities Not Shy About Naming Names”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 7 1994.
- “West Palm Beach Officials Consider Publishing Names of Arrested Prostitution Clients”, Palm Beach Post, May 24 2011.
- “Repeat Offender Johns’ to Be Posted on West Palm Website, in Anti-Prostitution Effort”, Palm Beach Post, October 18 2011.
- Community Service:
- Neighborhood Action:
- Auto Seizure:
- License Suspension:
- Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Men Ordered to Pay Former Sexual Slaves”, Mount Airy News, April 19 1999.
- “Six-Figure Bail Set in Prostitution Slave Case; Judge Dismisses Charge Against One of 3 at Hearing”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, November 26 2008.
- “West Palm Beach Massage Parlor Owner Charged with Money Laundering, Forcing Women into Prostitution”, Palm Beach Post, April 19 2010.
- “West Palm Beach Woman Faces Life Sentence for Sex Trafficking”, Palm Beach Post, April 12 2012.
- “Two Go down for West Palm Beach Prostitution Ring that Preyed on Drug-Addicted Teens,” Palm Beach Post, November 6 2014.
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/20181115/west-palm-beach-prostitution-sting-nets-11-arrests (2018)
- Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Former Cop Charged in Prostitute’s Death,” Lakeland Ledger, March 5 1994.
- “Prostitute’s Killer Sentenced to 15 Years to Plea Bargain,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, September 12 1996.
- “Man Acquitted in 2006 Murder of Prostitute,” Palm Beach Post, December 16 2010.
- “West Palm Police: Man Attacked Prostitute who Refused to Work for Him,” Palm Beach Post, May 28 2015.
- “Trial Begins for Man Accused of Killing Cross-Dressing Prostitute,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, June 1 2015.
- “Jurors Hear Taped Statement from Man Accused of Killing Cross-Dressing Prostitute,” Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, June 16 2015.