Live 5 Investigates: Officers pose as prostitutes in undercover sting

Live 5 Investigates: Officers pose as prostitutes in undercover sting
Undercover North Charleston police officers took on the roles of prostitutes as part of an undercover sting. (Source: NCPD)
Undercover North Charleston police officers took on the roles of prostitutes as part of an undercover sting. (Source: NCPD)

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Two undercover North Charleston police officers took on the roles of prostitutes as part of an undercover sting.

Live 5 News got an exclusive look inside the sting and saw how dangerous the officers' job can be.

Officers used the website Backpage to get so-called "johns" to respond.

"Just regular 'johns,'" people we see every day," said the undercover sergeant who headed up the sting.

To set up the sting, two female undercover officers took out an ad on Backpage. Many use the site as a dating website, but police say it's also used for prostitution.

Once the ad was placed, police set up the sting at a local hotel. Live 5 News was invited to go along. In one room the officers posed as prostitutes.

"You basically have to form a personality, kind of stick with it, ultimately create your own identity down to the name," one of the undercover officers said. "It's almost a 180-flip from who you are on the streets as to who you are behind our ads."

The officers who are on the takedown team watch from a nearby room.

They will make the arrest after the deal for sex is done. They are armed and wearing bulletproof vests.

The two undercover officers get ready in the other room. There are hidden cameras and microphones in that room.

"There's been people that will bring guns to the room," said the sergeant in charge of the sting.

There's also an anxiety factor for the officers playing the role of prostitutes.

"It's the fear of the unknown," one of the undercover female officers said. "You don't know who's coming to your door. You don't know. It's the element of surprise,"

It's a waiting game to see if any so-called "johns" will respond to the ad.

Suddenly, the undercover officers' phones blow up with text messages. Soon the waiting is over.

A customer shows up at the hotel room. The video shows the guy touching her breast.

"Do you want sex or a --, which one?" the officer asked the customer in the video.

"You're meeting a stranger off the internet or off of a phone call and they're walking into an intimate environment where you are ultimately by yourself for a few moments until my team's picking up signals that something's going wrong," she said.

The takedown team watches and listens on a TV monitor. The undercover cop waits for the guy to make her a cash offer. The suspect is taken to another room to be interviewed.

Meanwhile, the undercover officers' phones continue to get text messages from men who are responding to the Backpage ad. One of them gets a text message for a specific request.

"He wants me to send a pic," she said.

She says the guy didn't like the photo in the Backpage ad, a photo that was a fake.

"He didn't like that one because he says he wants to make sure I'm legit," the officer said.

She sends him a full body selfie.

Then another customer shows up. On the video, you hear him make an offer for sex.

"Do you have a condom with you?" she is heard saying.

"No," the customer responds.

"No? Okay. I got a couple," the officer says.

The officer tells him she will be right back. The takedown team comes in. The suspect isn't cooperating.

"Do not resist! You're resisting, just relax," an officer on the takedown team says.

The suspect isn't happy to see a news camera.

"Oh my God, please, please, please, no news! Please no news, sir," he says.

Business for the undercover cops continues to boom.

"And you said for 30 minutes?" the undercover officer says.

"Yeah," the customer responds.

"That's $100," the officer replies.

"$100? You said $50," the customer responds.

"You have $75?" the officer says.

"No," the customer replies.

"Fine, I'll charge you $50," she answers back.

That's the cue for the takedown team to move in. The man is arrested.

The undercover officers say they never know what a "john" will ask. They get some strange requests.

"Some of them I've actually had to Google because I had no idea what they were asking," the officer said.

The next man to come to the room knows what he wants.

"I want everything," he says.

"Everything is a lot of money," the officer replies.

They make a deal.

"Half an hour? Ok, it's $100. Give me the money first and I'm going to the bathroom."

He also is arrested by the takedown team.

Another man who answered the Backpage ad shows up at the hotel room.

He tells the officer what he does for a living.

"I'm in the Air Force," he says.

"Oh, are you? That's cool," the officer replies.

He offers her $100 for sex. Then the guy has a request.

"Can I touch your breast?" he asks.

"Yeah," she replies.

Then he moves his hand towards her crotch. The takedown team moves in and surprises the guy.

"Really?" the man says.

He's concerned he may lose his job. One of the cops on the takedown team has some words for him.

"You chose to come here okay?" the officer says.

There's no time for the officers to relax as the customers keep on coming.

"Fifteen minutes will be $40, just sex. A --? $50," she tells him.

This guy also winds up in handcuffs and a trip to jail.

It turned out to be a successful night with eight arrests with none of the officers hurt. Police hope to send a message to anyone in the Tri-County area who's thinking of picking up a prostitute: They'd better think twice because an undercover officer might be behind the door of the hotel room.

"This is something we need to stop," the officer heading up the operation said.

The penalties for prostitution vary in South Carolina. The first offense carries a fine of up to $200 or 30 days in jail. The second offense carries a fine up to $1,000 dollars, up to six months in jail or both. A third offense is a felony and carries a fine up to $5,000, up to five years in prison or both.

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