Flint, MI

Tactics Used

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

Flint is a city in Michigan with a population of about 103,000, located 60 miles northwest of Detroit.  Prostitution and sex trafficking are persistent problems in Flint and the region.  Among the collateral problems have been cases of infants in hotel rooms during prostitution and drug transactions, and the homicide of prostituted women.

To combat the wide range of local problems associated with illegal commercial sex, responses have included those focusing on demand.  Reverse stings have been occurring in Flint since at least 2007, possibly before then, and are often the result of complaints from residents about prostitution and sex trafficking.  In addition to the arrests of johns during these sting operations, cash, property, and vehicles are also often seized.  Some Flint residents have been very vocal in their disapproval of the prostitution activity, evident in one case in 2008 when a couple posted a “No Ho Zone” sign outside their home.  Police have made it easier for residents to report illegal activity such as prostitution by setting up a non-emergency tip hotline.

Auto Seizure Program

In Detroit and Wayne County, MI (as well as Flint), autos used in the commission of a crime may be seized, and retrieved after paying a fine plus towing and storage fees.  This tactic has been applied to arrested sex buyers since 1988 in Detroit and Wayne County. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office operates the Vehicle Seizure Program.  To retrieve their vehicle, arrestees must provide:

  • Notice of Seizure
  • Valid driver’s license or state ID
  • Vehicle registration or vehicle title
  • Money Order or Cashier’s Check – NO cash or personal checks

First-time offenders must pay $900 to retrieve their autos, and the penalty increases to $1,800 for second offenses.  This generates substantial revenue, enough potentially to fully fund the police operations resulting in arresting sex buyers, assuming that typical yields of arrests occur for each reverse sting.  According to a report from 1997, police seized 3,198 vehicles of men arrested for buying sex.  At that time, the penalties were lower:  $650 for a 1st offense, and $1,300 for a 2nd.  Over 2,000 of the arrestees paid the first offense fine of $650, and over 400 paid the second offense fine of $1,300.  Thirty-six cases were contested, and the police department prevailed in 31 of those cases and collected the fines.  The rest of the vehicles were either returned to their owners or where abandoned.   Approximately $1.36 million was generated in vehicle seizure fines paid by the arrested sex buyers.  Towing and impound storage fees are paid by johns in addition to the $900 (or larger) fines, so police did not need to use the fine revenue to reimburse towing companies or storage facilities.

We do not have data on the number of reverse stings it took to produce those 3,200 arrests in 1997, nor the precise number of officers were deployed and for how many hours in the operations.  However, we have data from Detroit over a longer timeframe that can be used for estimation.  The average reverse sting in Detroit lasts eight hours, uses teams involving one decoy and seven support officers, and produces seven arrests.  Applying these averages to the 1997 data, we can estimate that it took about 440 reverse sting teams working eight-hour operations to make the arrests.  If the average cost of a reverse sting was $3,000 ($1,900 for 64 hours of direct labor, and $1,000 for indirect costs), then the police department expended about $1.32 million in conducting reverse stings.  There are expenses incurred by courts after the point of arrest, but courts typically impose a $500 fine and sometimes court fees that should address – at least partially – those expenses.

While the assumptions underlying these estimates may be imprecise and actual expenditures can vary, the general picture that emerges is that vehicle seizure fines and court fees appear to cover what it costs to arrest and process sex buyers in Detroit.  Note that this cannot be generalized to most other cities, since few impose such heavy fines and fees.   But it does illustrate how fines and fees can be used to either fully cover or help to defray the costs of reverse stings.

Shaming

In November 2014, the Flint Police Department announced it would begin publicizing the names of individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses to its Facebook page. In a press announcement, the FPD Police Chief stated:

“When we look at ways in which to curb this type of activity, being a visible presence and simply making the arrests isn’t enough of a deterrent… What we believe will be effective is the notification to the public which may have other repercussions for offenders who are engaged in a crime that is secretive by nature.”

The following fall, in October 2015, the Detroit Free Press reported that the arrest photos of five sex buyers had been posted on the FPD’s website. The men had reportedly been arrested during a reverse sting in July 2015.

Key Partners

  • Flint Police Department
  • Local area residents

Key Sources

State Michigan
Type City
Population 114662
Location
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