(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph Police Department and Break Every Chain Coalition say a recent sting is just the start of an effort to address prostitution in the community.
“This is just the beginning. This is going to set a benchmark to provide some local statistics of where we are at in the demand for prostitution,” said Sgt. Jason Strong, from SJPD Family Crimes Department.
The SJPD has been working with the Break Every Chain Coalition for the last two years. This was their second collaborative effort together. Last year, their operation targeted providing escape and help information for those being trafficked. The provided “go-bags” were filled with contact information, light toiletries, and gift cards.
“We focused on establishing a relationship and trust with them, so if they ever felt they could leave from their situation, they would have our number and feel more comfortable calling us,” said Christi Miller, the head of Break Every Chain Coalition.
This year they focused on finding those looking to buy and facilitate prostitution in St. Joseph. For months SJPD worked on fake ads, a website, training prostitution decoys, and a dry run through to ensure surveillance equipment worked.
“It was not something you could just throw together. A lot of people put a lot into this,” said Sgt. Strong.
Miller said the sting operation lasted from 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on April 26th. The team received over 80 calls asking for prostitution services. 10 people showed up and seven people tried to pay for services.
“In Kansas City, in a 24 hour period they had 500 calls, but that’s 24 hours. We just operated on Friday. That tells me that the demand in a small community like this is high,” said Miller, “One of the main questions I hear is does it really happen here, and how do you know.”
Seven men were arrested that Friday for trying to pay for prostitution services.
“We're elated. We feel like we're honestly making a huge impact in the community, holding the purchasers of these types of crimes accountable, holding demand accountable,” said Sgt. Strong.
The SJPD and the Break Every Chain Coalition will use the new data to educate the community and plan future operations.
“When traffickers find out that we're arresting, when buyers find out we're arresting, we push it out of our community, because they're going to be scared to bring it here,” said Miller.
“If you're out looking for solicitation online just know there could be a police officer at the end of it and your photograph could end up on the news,” said Sgt. Strong.