National sting targeting buyers nets record number of arrests

Posted on Aug 24, 2016 in CEASE Network


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Long exposure to capture the full array of police car lights. 12MP camera.

The National Johns Suppression Initiative, a nationwide anti-trafficking operation targeting sex buyers, is reporting very impressive numbers from its most recent stings. Under the leadership of Sherriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Illinois, more than 1,300 sex buyers—a record—were arrested across 18 states in just one month.

The sweep, conducted by a national coalition of law enforcement agencies, also recovered 32 underage trafficking victims, yielding 71 human trafficking arrests and more than $1 million in collected fines. (The buyers’ victims were referred to service agencies by local police departments or through the National Trafficking Hotline.)

Our partners in the CEASE Network (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation) were among the most active participants. Six of the 10 counties with the most arrests were CEASE members—accounting for more than 60 percent of the total arrests. An additional 2,015 would-be buyers were discovered attempting to buy sex online and were disrupted via texts, calls, and webpage re-directs–as part of online deterrence tactics designed and regularly employed by CEASE cities.

To date, this is the 12th NJSI; the initiative was launched five years ago by Sheriff Dart with support from Demand Abolition. Since then, the sweeps have led to the arrests of more than 5,800 buyers by 70 law enforcement agencies across 22 states. And the movement continues to grow. This summer, Sheriff Dart welcomed 10 new partners to the operation, including the New York City and Philadelphia Police Departments. Participating agencies now cover the nation’s 10 largest cities, demonstrating that more and more people within law enforcement recognize demand as the driving force of this exploitative industry, and demand reduction as the way to end it.

But it’s not just the increased volume of participating police departments that’s encouraging. Equally exciting is the unprecedented level of buyer data collected, and shared, by this year’s arresting officers.

Traditionally each contributing police department had its own way of logging arrest information. Because of all this variance, it was very difficult to look at the collected data in a cohesive way—limiting the operation’s ability to identify national trends in buyer demographics. (Information like arrestees’ average age or past criminal history could be very helpful in making future stings more efficient.)

But, thanks to new technology developed by Demand Abolition and Cook County Sheriff Office, that’s changing.

A new “arrest app,” developed at our hackathon in January and refined by the sheriff’s office, was available to NJSI participants for the first time this year. The app allows officers to easily log arrest info into a national database, which Dart’s team can then use to identify trends in buyer demographics. With more than 80% of all initiative arrests logged via the app, we are well on our way to developing a stronger, more nuanced understanding of who buyers are—information that can be used to find new ways to change their behavior.