York County, PA

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

York County is a county of approximately 459,000 residents in south-central Pennsylvania. Its county seat is York, PA. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the county for decades. This activity and its ancillary crimes has resulted in complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses. In response to these complaints, law enforcement has conducted investigations into illicit massage businesses (IMBs), serving as fronts for brothels and sex trafficking organizations and arrested prostituted women and sex traffickers. There have also been reports of multiple large-scale sex trafficking rings operating in the county. Instances of violence, physical assault of prostituted persons, rape of prostituted persons, targeted homicide of individuals engaging in commercial sex, and robbery of sex buyers have been reported as occurring as a result of the commercial sex market in the county.

Law enforcement in York County has also faced significant scrutiny since the 1980s, due to the longstanding issue of officers engaging in sexual activity with women during prostitution investigations only to arrest them moments later on prostitution charges. In May 2019, the York Daily Record reportedly “filed Right-to-Know Law requests with more than 25 police departments in Pennsylvania, including all of them in York County, for copies of written memos, procedures and policies on how police officers are to conduct prostitution investigations.” Many law enforcement agencies in York County were found not to have policies for prostitution investigations, even the ones that frequently conducted sting operations. In response to the lack of policies in the county, the former first assistant district attorney and current York defense attorney, Tom Kelley stated

“You wouldn’t put an undercover police officer, a female, soliciting johns, and actually have her go through the act. Why? Because that would be appalling. The same can be said for actually allowing someone to masturbate you.”

The exposure of undercover officers in the county going beyond what is considered “beyond a reasonable doubt” of evidence to arrest women on prostitution charges has resulted in recent changes in and/or the creation of prostitution investigation policies within multiple police departments across the county. Additionally, in 2020, this led to the introduction of a bill by a Pennsylvania state representative that would “make it illegal for police officers to engage in sex with individuals who are under investigation and prohibit them from holding a position in law enforcement in the state if they’re convicted of the crime.”

To curtail commercial sex activity in the county, patrol officers have been conducting reverse sting operations since the 1990s, if not earlier. The York County District Attorney’s Office frequently conducts these operations with assistance from other local law enforcement agencies. Early street-level prostitution stings typically targeted both male sex buyers and prostituted women, their identities released in reports by local media outlets. For example, in 1995, the YCDAO and the York City Police Department conducted a string of street-level reverse sting operations in York City that primarily targeted male sex buyers soliciting sex from undercover female officers. However, officers arrested three prostituted women after they allegedly approached undercover male officers and offered sex acts in exchange for money. As a result of these operations, a total of 32 male sex buyers were arrested. Their identities, ages, hometowns, and charges were included in reports by local media outlets.

In addition to street-level reverse sting operations, more recently, law enforcement has conducted web-based reverse sting operations in effort to combat the growing online commercial sex industry. For example, in October 2012, police placed a decoy listing advertising sex to Backpage.com. When sex buyers replied to the advertisement and arranged to meet with an undercover officer at a local hotel, they were apprehended by police. Although city law enforcement reserves the right to disclose the identities of arrested sex buyers (and may do so on occasion), the names of the men involved were not made public.

In July 2016, The York City Police Department’s Neighborhood Enforcement Unit conducted a web-based reverse sting operation that resulted in the arrest of four male sex buyers and one prostituted woman. According to reports, officers posted decoy advertisements and responded to prostitution ads on Backpage.com. Arrest were made at a local hotel where undercover officers and suspected sex buyers had arranged to meet. The identities of arrestees were included in reports by local media outlets.

In the third annual Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania by Villanova University’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute), in was reported that eight people were arrested and charged with violations of the state’s sex buying statute (§ 5902(e)) between the time since the state criminal code created separate offenses for buying and selling sex in 2014 through 2017.

In the Spring of 2018 a report was released by the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. The report presented county-level data on arrests for purchasing sex in Pennsylvania (the state has separate statutes for buying versus selling sex) during calendar year 2017. The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2017 there were 8 arrests in York County that were charged under the statute for purchasing sex (18 Pa.C.S. § 5902(e)). It is important to note that there may have been larger numbers of sex buyer arrests, since some cities and counties choose to handle such cases by issuing civil citations for violating local prostitution ordinances rather than charging with violating state criminal law.

Key Partners

  • York County Sheriff’s Office
  • York County District Attorney’s Office
  • York City Police Department
  • York Area Regional Police Department
  • Pennsylvania State Police
    • Troop H – Vice Task Force
  • West Manchester Township Police Department

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests, Cameras, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Local Sex Trafficking:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaging in Commercial Sex:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 458696
Comments are closed.