Prostitution hot spots: FOX 32 rides along in sheriff office's sting

In a FOX 32 special report: prostitution hot spots.

Local law enforcement is trying new ways to combat an age-old problem. FOX 32’s Elizabeth Matthews was invited to ride along with the sheriff’s office during a sting.

On a warm summer night on a busy road, we watched as woman walked and men approached.

Then a radio call, alerting officers to make the arrest.

These so-called Johns had no idea they just made a deal with an undercover female officer, hoping to exchange drugs or cash for a sex act.

Commander Bill Leen says stings like these have two goals.

“Number one, it tells people we're addressing this issue in this area. And number two, we think it's dissuading a lot of people that are doing this,” he said.

That's because the unit's approach to addressing prostitution has changed, too.

“There's correlations between prostitution, human trafficking, other crimes as well, and something a lot of people don't think of, is there are victims out there. These are real, live victims,” Leen said.

Commander Leen says the unit has changed the way they prosecute the Johns. What used to be a misdemeanor and a small fine is now a lot more.

Instead, the men are given this citation: they watch a video, sign a pledge and pay a hefty $1k fine. Plus, their car is automatically towed, costing an additional $500 to get it out.

“It's cut down on the repeat customers greatly. It's really made an impact as far as we can tell,” Leen said.

But the prostitution problem hasn't gone away. We looked at more than 100 citations issued in Cook County just over the last year. So-called Johns were cited at all hours of the day, from 8 and 9 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon to 10 at night.

And Commander Leen says location matters.

“Proximity to an airport, or somewhere that has a lot of people coming and going,” he said.

Over the year, arrests happened in East Chatham, Chatham, Englewood, Burbank and North Lawndale with lots of citations near both Midway and O’Hare. And while the majority of the citations were for local men, Johns visiting from Wisconsin, Iowa, Minneapolis, Colorado, California and Virginia were all cited.

Commander Leen says for its part, the unit will continue to innovate until the demand is gone.

“The battle's going to go on,” he said.