Prince George's Co. police call plan to live-tweet prostitution sting 'successful deterrent'
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. (WJLA) - Prince George's County police said this week that the advance notice they spread of plans to document a prostitution sting live on Twitter as it happened proved to be a "successful deterrent" to participants.
The department last week announced advance plans to live-tweet a sting - without releasing details such as date, time or location - this week, complete with photos and information on arrests made.
After what police called a "tremendous response" on social media - consisting mostly of criticism from citizens who feared police planned to publicly shame sex workers whom they felt needed help - the police made a second announcement that clarified they mostly planned to tweet about the arrests of the "johns," or customers, caught in the sting.
However, late Tuesday, the department posted a message on its blog saying that the sting had taken place earlier that day, over several hours in the southern part of Prince George's County, but that no arrests were made.
Police attributed the lack of arrests to their advance notice of their plans to live-tweet the sting, complete with photos.
"On average, the unit arrests five to 10 johns during similar operations. Today, no johns were arrested," the message indicated.
The blog post also quoted Sgt. Dave Coleman, the officer in charge of the Vice Intelligence Unit.
"I've participated in hundreds of stings, and I've never seen what happened today," he said. "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," Coleman continued.
However, the blog post also cited the desire to protect the identities of their undercover officers involved in the sting as another reason they decided not to live-tweet the sting after all.
"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 post indicated.
"While it was no longer prudent to tweet the information about the sting in real-time, we still wanted to honor our commitment to give our community virtual access to our Vice Unit, which is dedicated to shutting down this type of illicit business and seeking help for its victims."
According to the blog post, the Prince George's County Police Department has live-tweeted a least a dozen operations of various types over the past couple of years, and said they plan to continue to do so in the future.
"We’ll continue to highlight those officers who aren’t undercover. Our community has embraced those conversations, and plans are already in the works for the next PGPD TweetAlong," they said. "Stay tuned."
Visit the Prince George's County Police Department's online blog.