Earlier this month, in an undercover sting operation conducted by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, 114 suspects were arrested and charged with a variety of sex crimes. This is far from the first sting the Sheriff’s Office has pulled off this year – in June, a similar endeavor led to 128 arrests, while more specialized undertakings have targeted offenders who work at Disney World, SeaWorld, and other area theme parks
“You would think these…predators would learn the risk they are taking, but they don’t,” Polk County sheriff Grady Judd told the Washington Post earlier this year. “They can’t resist taking the chance, and I can’t resist arresting these freaks.”
How they did it
The ultimate goal of the current investigation, called “Operation Not So Silent Night,” was to identify victims of human trafficking. Female detectives posted fictitious ads online, soliciting sex; they arranged to meet with the men who replied, and arrested them at the rendezvous. Likewise, male detectives responded to legitimate ads posted by suspected sex workers, and charged them with prostitution and related offenses.
Among those charged are a corrections officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a member of the Osceola County School Board. (“When he came in,” Sheriff Judd said of the school official, “he said he needed to do a ‘cup check,’ and he reached up and grabbed one of our undercover detectives’ breasts.”)
Can the suspects defend themselves?
As technology has evolved, so, too, have police tactics. While it used to be the investigators could patrol chat rooms, they are now monitoring apps and engaging with individuals on social media to suss out offenders.
The suspects face imprisonment and heavy fines, and many will suffer damage to their reputations and personal lives. Some may be able to work with an attorney and have the penalties reduced or the charges dismissed. For others, though, it may already be too late – judging from the reports in the Post, it seems a number of the suspects have already given a great deal of information to the authorities and, in some cases, admitted fault.
Human trafficking victims identified
In addition to the arrests, the Sheriff’s Department was able to identify, at least potentially, four human trafficking victims. This is a small fix in the larger picture of human exploitation, but will have an immeasurable impact on the individuals affected. And, given their track record of proactive enforcement, it seems likely the Sheriff’s Department will be on the lookout for more victims – and offenders – in the immediate future.