The Prince George's Police Department abandoned its plans this week to live Tweet a prostitution sting, saying the international exposure before the event worried undercover vice officers that their identities would be outed.
Last week, the department promoted its plans as a way to deter the targeted customers of prostitutes, not the girls and women involved. But, the sting operation, marked by the hashtag #PGPDVice, was met on social media with support for the prostitutes and against anything that would stigmatize them, including the many who are victims of sex-traffickers.
“This enforcement effort was advertised in advance to warn the men who solicit prostitutes that they aren't welcome in Prince George's County,” the department wrote on its blog. “Due to the international attention to this publicized sting targeting johns, our undercover officers became increasingly concerned about the potential compromise of their identities. Those concerns prompted the department to change course.”
The sting was conducted Tuesday, but no customers were arrested, police said, because of the advance publicity. On average, the unit arrests five to 10 “johns” during similar operations.
"I've participated in hundreds of stings, and I've never seen what happened today. By advertising this days ago, we wanted to put johns on notice to not come to Prince George's County. That message was heard loud and clear. We just put a dent in the human trafficking business without making one arrest," said Sgt. Dave Coleman, head of the Vice Intelligence Unit.
The Vice Unit is dedicated to shutting down prostitution and seeking help for its victims, police said, calling the absence of arrests a win.
But those on social media who criticized the campaign have also declared victory, reports The Washington Post, saying their opposition to the planned live tweet forced the cancelation.
“The truth is that #PGPDVice was deterred by a massive public backlash against their planned live tweets,” Twitter user @cbsizz wrote.
Coleman said the sting took place Tuesday over three hours in middle of the day.
“Lunchtime is one of the prime times to arrest Johns,” Coleman told the Post.
The police department had planted Internet ads on Monday night to try and lure people looking for prostitutes. Calls started coming in at around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Coleman said.
The vice team had set up meetings with at least five potential clients, but none of them showed up. Traffic on backpage.com, a popular Web site for those seeking prostitutes, also appeared to be down, he said.
Local nonprofit HIPS, which provides social services for sex workers, had planned to usurp the #PGPDVice hashtag the county was going to use to document the sting. HIPS was going to detail the work it did for victimized sex workers, the newspaper reported.
“Thank you to @PGPDNews for not live tweeting the prostitution sting! A good outcome whatever your stated reasons,” @HIPSDC wrote on twitter. In another message the nonprofit tweeted: “We’ll still tweet a day of service next week! “WITH PHOTOS” ;) to highlight effective, evidence based approaches Follow @HIPSDC!”