The ad soliciting people potentially interested in sexual contact with an underage boy or girl that was posted earlier this week on a website was supposed to just be a test run to make sure everything was ready for a sting operation this weekend.
But when the Manteca and Lathrop Police Departments posted the information, they got so much interest out of the gate that they scrambled the resources to staff the operation at a Lathrop hotel site for the duration of the week – culminating early Saturday morning with a record-setting number of arrests.
“This joint mission with Manteca Police Department was designed to apprehend individuals soliciting persons for prostitution and those individuals seeking to have intercourse with children under 14 years of age,” the press release distributed by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office read. “Through the week-long operation, detectives received hundreds of emails, texts, and phone calls of interest from individuals looking to engage in some type of sexual activity.
“The volume of interest was remarkable and troubling.”
At a press conference Friday evening at the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in French Camp, Acting Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biederman announced that five people had been arrested over the previous several days for attempting lewd and lascivious acts with a minor 14 years old or under, arranging to meet with a minor or meeting with a minor, and sending harmful material to a minor.
Less than two hours after making that announcement, detectives had taken two more people into custody on similar charges, and even more were on the hook to be arrested later in the evening.
Before Friday night’s full sting operation went into effect – with an adult prostitute decoy being deployed as well – detectives had received more than 3,600 text messages and 150 phone calls from people interested in the minors that were being advertised. No actual minors were used in the operation.
Biederman, who used to run the sheriff’s office sex crimes unit, said that previous sting operations that had double the manpower didn’t even come close to nabbing as many suspects.
“There is no better way to protect the public and the innocence of our children than to take proactive steps to seek out these individuals before somebody becomes a victim,” said Acting Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biederman. “Using technology and new methods in policing will ensure that we do not wait for the next call to come to us.
“The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and Lathrop Police Services take the safety of the public very seriously.”
Authorities were quick to point out that the websites that were used to advertise the decoys could easily be accessed by any one of a number of devices that children have access to – cell phones, laptops, and video game consoles, for example – and that parents should take extra precautions in monitoring the usage of their children.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.