Conducting prostitution stings was once a practice limited to a few select police departments, but in the last few years numerous Maryland law enforcement agencies have joined the fray after the internet has made prostitution more accessible to the average person. Traditional prostitution stings consist of an undercover female police officer hanging around in areas known to be hotbeds for this illegal activity. Undercover officers are always flanked by a team of officers in unmarked cars close by, who arrive in seconds once a “take down” signal is relayed. These operations were once common in urban areas such as Baltimore City but they are tedious and possibly dangerous endeavors for police. Assigning undercover officers to walk the streets of high-crime areas creates an environment that is far from controlled. On top of that vice teams could spend hours searching for Johns without any takers, as high prostitution areas are virtually nonexistent after being replaced by online the marketplace. Rather than spend an entire day in the street searching for solicitors police departments developed plans to have the Johns come to them, and in turn arrest numbers have increased.
Anne Arundel County was one of the first departments to aggressively combat online prostitution after fielding numerous complaints from hotels in the BWI region. These hotels began to notice activity that was consistent with sex commerce, and in response police began to set up fake online profiles for escorts in online classified websites such Backpages. The fake profiles aimed to mimic real profiles with seductive pictures and slang phrases. Like real profiles the fake ones never actually said specifically what was for sale or how much it would cost, as the vague language was used to dispel any fears that cops were on the prowl. After posting the fake ads police set up shop in the same hotels where the complaints originated, and waited by the phone for calls or texts. Police didn’t end up waiting long as Johns showed up at pre-determined rooms where an undercover female officer was waiting to negotiate a deal if one had not already been reached via text. In some cases the female officer would wait until money was produced before giving the take down signal to a group of officers stationed in an adjacent room, but other times the undercover would send the cavalry in earlier. Either way, the result was the same, as the support team basically arrested anyone who showed up at the room regardless of whether a deal was verbalized.
Anne Arundel County Police made hundreds of arrests at area hotels using fake Backpages profiles, and they continue to conduct these stings. In the last few years other Maryland police agencies such as Prince George’s County police and Howard County police have started to conduct the same stings and these departments have showed no sign of discontinuing this effort. A person that shows up in response to a fake Backpages at can expect charges for solicitation and assignation, and often police include multiple counts of each. The multiple counts represent each time police perceive that an offer and acceptance for sex takes place, but the state will typically only prosecute one of these counts. Howard County police have been known to charge Johns with disorderly conduct as well, though this charge is definitely a long shot in the courtroom. There are also instances where Johns have touched the undercover and been charged with 4thdegree sexual offense. Fourth degree sexual offense is a misdemeanor with the same maximum penalty as solicitation, but it is a far more serious offense with potential consequences including registering as a sex offender. While it would be difficult to prove this charge in a solicitation case it nonetheless raises the stakes, and makes it all the more important to hire an experienced and skilled lawyer.
The increased anti prostitution activity by police is in some way a response to lawmakers prioritizing the fight against human trafficking. The stings are an attempt to decrease the market for prostitution, though like controlled substances, this is a fight that may continue until legalization occurs in the not so near future. In the meantime police will continue to devote a good deal of manpower to arrest and prosecute individuals for solicitation in Maryland. If you have been charged or have been arrested for any of these crimes contact Benjamin Herbst for a free consultation. Benjamin is has successfully handled numerous prostitution cases, and has earned jury trial acquittals for his clients in solicitation and human trafficking charges. He is also an experienced attorney in crimes such as fourth degree sex offense and is available 24 hours a day for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.