Dozen 'johns' snared in Santa Rosa hooker sting

  • A Santa Rosa Police decoy works Santa Rosa Avenue during a John sting.

Undercover police officers posing as prostitutes snared at least a dozen men Thursday night in a sting operation along Santa Rosa Avenue.

Officers dressed as streetwalkers at times backed up traffic in front of a Wendy's fast-food restaurant, arranging "dates" with passersby and directing them to a nearby hotel parking lot where they were arrested.

It was the first crackdown of its kind in about three years and was sparked by continued complaints from businesses and residents about the illegal activity.

"We're trying to do what we can to improve the quality of life for the neighbors," said Sgt. Clay Van Artsdalen, who organized the sweep. "Despite what some might think, it's not a victimless crime. It exploits women and tears families apart."

Santa Rosa Avenue, with its proliferation of inexpensive motels, has historically been the center of the city's prostitution.

The number of arrests in the area has held steady in recent years but police report seeing more prostitutes coming from cities as far away as Sacramento and Fresno to ply their trade.

"It's supply and demand," Van Artsdalen said. "We need to slow down both sides of the equation."

On Thursday, five undercover officers worked the street in pairs, waving and making eye contact with "johns" who talked to them through open car windows.

"Wanna date?" one decoy asked two men in a beat-up sedan.

Arrests came within minutes of deploying the first decoy — an officer dressed in jean short-shorts, a tight red top and sucking a pink lollipop.

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