Ypsilanti, MI

Tactics Used

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

Ypsilanti is a city of approximately 19,000 residents, situated in Michigan’s Washtenaw County just east of Ann Arbor. Prostitution has posed persistent and visible problems in the community for several years, and have generated numerous complaints from local residents and business owners. Cases of forced prostitution of minors, as well as targeted sexual assaults on sex sellers, have also been documented.

The Ypsilanti Police Department has frequently partnered with their peers at the Ypsilanti Township Police Department and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office on a number of efforts to contain the local commercial sex market and the collateral problems and crimes that arise. Washtenaw County has a program for individuals wishing to leave prostitution, for example, and assists in demand reduction efforts.  Johns arrested in reverse stings in Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and greater Washtenaw County have their mug shots and identifiers posted on the county’s website with the intent that shaming will serve as a deterrent. Arrested johns may have their cars impounded and must pay the county $750 to retrieve them. The fine revenue is used to cover overtime costs for deputies on the undercover sting operations. At times, arrested sex buyers have been sent to a john school at which individuals formerly involved in prostitution discuss the hardships and negative outcomes associated with selling sex. Reverse stings usually result in four to eight john arrests, but are run intermittently because of logistical and financial challenges.

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 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.

E.A.S.Y. Prostitution Program

In the mid- to late 2000s, YPD, YTPD and WCSO officers joined forces to establish the Enforcement Against Streetwalkers in Ypsilanti (or E.A.S.Y.) program. The program is a designed as a comprehensive approach to addressing the root causes of prostitution along the Michigan Avenue corridor in the City of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. According to law enforcement, “for years, traditional tactics of simply arresting known prostitutes or those that solicit prostitutes had been ineffective. E.A.S.Y. however, brings together law enforcement, human services, the judicial system and elected officials in an effort to provide the resources needed for someone to remove themselves from a  life of prostitution and ultimately clean up the streets of Ypsilanti Township and the City of Ypsilanti.”  Included in the E.A.S.Y. model are “john stings.”

These street-level reversals employ decoys along major thoroughfares. Individuals who attempt to purchase sex acts from the decoys are arrested, and– if soliciting from a vehicle– may have their car impounded and subject to a retrieval fee. Though major news outlets in the area do not typically carry the names and other identifying information about men and women arrested for prostitution-related offenses, the WCSO publicizes the names and mugshots of individuals arrested for attempting to purchase sex after they have been formally charged.

E.A.S.Y. program officials have suggested that the program’s efforts are driven by community complaints about the negative impact of prostitution on local neighborhoods. Among the concerns raised by local residents, business owners and city officials is an increase in other crimes, such as drug trafficking, robbery, assault, and fraud; devaluation of commercial and residential property in high-stroll areas; and “unsightly and potentially hazardous” paraphernalia (such as used condoms and syringes) in areas where street prostitution is chronic.

John School

In 2001, a john school was established by a counseling center in Ann Arbor, but it served those arrested for solicitation in Ypsilanti, so it is discussed here.  The school – named Learn Every Aspect of Prostitution, or LEAP – was developed by a counseling center, the Home of New Vision, in 2001, after a HNV director traveled to San Francisco to learn about the First Offender Prostitution Program.  The john school developed for Ypsilanti was modeled after the FOPP, and was designed as a one-day, eight-hour diversion program. Like the FOPP, the content of the john school included topics such as health risks, legal risks, impact on communities, impact on those selling and/or being trafficked for commercial sex, healthy relationships, sexual addiction, human trafficking, and substance abuse. LEAP classes have not been held since 2009, due to police budget cuts,

In 2011, however, a representative from the WCSO indicated in an interview with the Ann Arbor News that some johns arrested through the E.A.S.Y. program were still being sent to a required john school course. It remains unclear which law enforcement entity or service organization was/is responsible for convening said course, or if it is still in operation.

Key Partners

  • Ypsilanti Police Department
  • Ypsilanti Township Police Department
  • Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office
  • Home of New Vision (Ann Arbor)

Key Sources

State Michigan
Type City
Population 19621
Location
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