West Palm Beach, FL

Tactics Used

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

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.

Key Partners

Key Sources

State Florida
Type City
Population 99377
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