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Riverside targets prostitution in police sting

March 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
An Eyewitness News exclusive: There was a big prostitution sting going on in Riverside Thursday. Police say it's not just a big-city problem. It's everywhere, including in their community, and they're taking action.

Unlike other sting operations, this one is aimed at the customers, the so-called "johns."

An undercover officer is disguised as a prostitute on the street corner as part of Thursday's sting operation.

The undercover officer asks what a prospective "john" wants, and it's all recorded.

Then, once a price is set and agreed upon, officers in marked units move in.

Thursday's sting operation, set up by the Riverside Police Department's vice unit, targeted people who solicit prostitution.

Riverside Officer James Barrett says over the years a number of people have been arrested, from all walks of life.

"We've arrested people in law enforcement, fire department personnel. We have people on their lunch breaks in their work vehicles pick up our girls. Preachers, youth ministers, you name it, we've arrested them," said Barrett.

Once arrested, many of the suspects didn't have much to say. One man told police he's married and has children.

The Riverside Police Department conducts stings like this one on a regular basis, and their hope is that as word gets out about these stings, it will be a deterrent.

"The fact that we do these things, we want people to know, who might not engage in illegal activity: This is illegal, the cops are watching, and you have a really good chance of getting arrested," said Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz.

Diaz says prostitution is not a victimless crime. In fact, he says, the entire community is victimized.

"When a community, a particular neighborhood, a corner becomes known as a place where you can pick up prostitutes, that has a very deleterious effect on the community as well," said Diaz.

Everyone arrested Thursday had their vehicles towed. They were then cited with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution and released.

But what the police department hopes is that the next time they're out looking to pay money for sex, they'll wonder, Is this person a prostitute? Or could it actually be a cop?