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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Lynne Doucette

Lynne Doucette

Lt. Lynne D. Doucette is a patrol supervisor and defensive tactics trainer with the Brunswick (Maine) PD. Prior to being the first female promoted at BPD, she worked as an undercover detective assigned to the state narcotics task force.

Patricia Teinert

Patricia Teinert

Patricia A. Teinert has been a Texas peace officer since 1984. She has served as a patrol officer, investigator, and member of a juvenile gang and narcotics task force. She is currently a patrol officer with Katy ISD Police Department.
Women in Law Enforcement

How To Stay Safe During a John Sting

Follow this guide for staying safe when taking on an undercover assignment as a prostitute.

July 02, 2012  |  by Gerry Long

CC_Flickr: Ludie Cochrane
CC_Flickr: Ludie Cochrane

The male and female officers who take on the undercover assignment as a prostitute often struggle with how far to carry the "walk and talk" to make a good case. The balance is no different in vice operations than when making a good drug arrest. The undercover (UC) officer must blend into the crowd, as well as lead the conversation in a safe and lawful way.

In conversations with a target, how far can the UC go before a defense attorney can use an entrapment defense? That's the key to a good UC operative. A "business" discussion between a prostitute and a john is straightforward with sparse small talk. With a UC, the business transaction must be suggested and led by the john. He or she should name the specific sexual act and cost when talking to the UC.

Most officers have heard and seen it all, so this small talk shouldn't offend the UC. Simple questions to the john should lead the conversation in the right direction. Here are several things to say:

  • What do you want today?
  • Tell me what you need.
  • What kind of date do you want?

These questions lead to specifics without leading the john. The cost of a "trick" seals the deal as far as making a case, so it's important to let the john name his or her offer. Again, simple questions frame the john's response.

  • How much is that worth to you?
  • What would you pay for that?

Try not to be offended by what the john might think your services are worth. Save that for a laugh with your team later. Like any other encounter with a suspect, maintain a reaction gap between you and the john, so you can quickly move to protect yourself or escape a grab. Nothing's for free with working prostitutes, so keeping a distance between you and the john shouldn't arouse suspicion.

What about attire? Should you dress the part of a prostitute? The UC's attire must be sufficient to fit in with the group, but also comfortable enough so the UC can move freely and not have their clothing used as a weapon against them.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good cover team. Remember, things happen quickly so be mindful of items that could be used against you such as necklaces, scarves, or flowing shirts that can be grabbed. Always wear a bright color that can be seen from a distance by the cover team.

Most operations of this sort occur at night, so dressing all in black can work to your disadvantage when blending in with the girls or guys on the corner. The "Pretty Woman" outfits worn by some prostitutes are not readily at hand for most officers, nor are Lucite platforms or 6-inch stilettos. You don't have to wear good running shoes, but find something in between that doesn't mark you as an off-duty officer.

The clothing should allow freedom of movement in case the officer becomes engaged in a struggle. Apply the same rules of wearing a uniform to the undercover clothing you choose. Avoid items such as dangling earrings.

Hopefully, the UC will walk away before a struggle occurs but always be prepared to deal with a wacka-doodle. Lastly, I would suggest the UC wear clothing that sets her apart from the other business women. This might attract more customers and can also help cover officers identify the UC from a distance. An agreed-upon color that all officers wear during the operation helps distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in the heat of the moment.

Another consideration is whether to carry a firearm when working UC as a prostitute. Officers usually carry semi-automatic pistols that don't lend themselves to easy concealment with casual wear, particularly for women.  There are compact makes and models with slim frames designed specifically for concealed carry (S&W's M&P Shield is the latest example).

Whether to be armed or unarmed during a UC prostitution sting should be weighed against crime in the general area, especially whether there has been a history of violence against the prostitutes. Some officers won't go out without their weapon, and that's fine.

One option a department may pursue is purchasing several of these small weapons to be kept in the armory specifically to be used during UC operations. Most PDs can't afford multiple types of weapons for officers that may be in use infrequently, so an inventory for that purpose is certainly more affordable.

However, don't hand the new low-profile weapon to a UC on the day of the operation. The UC should be familiar with the weapon and have qualified with it before the operation. The officers shouldn't struggle to work the kinks out with a new weapon under pressure with a john.

This also applies when the UC carries the weapon in a purse or fanny pack.  Learn to quickly retrieve the weapon from its holster or carrier before it's an emergency. Practice, practice, practice.

A firearm may not be needed. Oleoresin capsicum spray is, in my opinion, the best offensive weapon during a street prostitution sting. The key to good defense is a good offense, and pepper spray can temporarily disable a john while the cover team responds. A UC can more easily carry and conceal pepper spray than a firearm. Because prostitutes carry this and blades of all sorts, this is an offensive option that doesn't cause too much concern if discovered.

Most importantly, establish a signal for arrest. This can be visual or verbal depending upon your access to technology. The most significant safety point for the UC should be "do not reach into a vehicle." This is an important note for all officers, not just in this type of operation. We never know what the client might have to lose if arrested; a frightened john might decide his or her best option is to try to flee with your UC holding onto the door frame.

Gerry Long served with the Savannah-Chatham (Ga.) Metropolitan Police Department for more than 30 years, retiring in 2011 as a deputy chief.


How to Plan a 'John' Sting

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Mike @ 7/8/2012 12:23 PM

I want to know how to stay safe (as an LEO) when using the services of a hooker.

Jerome @ 7/26/2012 9:20 PM

Or, maybe the government shouldn't be involved in arresting the actions of consenting adults. There is a reason why there have been no reported cases of HIV in Nevada brothels. it is legal and regulated. Prostituiton, like drugs, just drives the market underground.

Debbie @ 8/1/2013 9:22 AM

Maybe sex work should be decriminalized. It's not illegal to be promiscuous. What if these ladies were giving it away for free? They wouldn't be arrested. WTF difference does it make!!!

Citizen @ 10/4/2013 5:14 PM

Lame! Get a real job. Leave the consenting adults alone. Yeah, save the one exception you are about to spew for someone else. Go arrest congress.

frank @ 10/26/2014 3:30 PM

My experience as a law enforcement officer is most police, men and women, who organize these stings get off on them. It's a somewhat meaningless violation to pursue, like jay walkers or rounding up illegal aliens. When I hear my colleagues organizing these stings, well, it probably says something their own professionalism. Most of the good cops I know simply refuse to participate in these stings.

sammythebull1975 @ 12/21/2016 7:55 PM

Fight real crimes.....

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