Rochester could see more crime crack-downs as COVID concerns wane

(ABC 6 News) – Olmsted County may see more crack-downs like the six prostitution arrests Tuesday, associate county attorney Arianna Whitney said, as COVID concerns wane and free up investigators.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Rochester police arrested six men in a public area on suspicion of engaging in prostitution.

Whitney said the Rochester Police Department lured the men to a public area while posing as an individual selling sex, and arrested them in an attempt to discourage people from visiting Rochester to engage in human trafficking.

Three of the men arrested were from outside of Rochester, and one hailed from Thompson, Iowa.

RELATED: 6 men arrested in Rochester prostitution investigation – ABC 6 News –

“We don’t want people to come here thinking it’s a destination,” Whitney said. “We can be seen as a hub between Chicago and Minneapolis for drug trafficking, human trafficking, major businesses in the area … we don’t want people to think that Rochester is the place to go for those things.”

Whitney said stings like the one accomplished Nov. 8 can happen more often as COVID concerns wane and several organizations — Rochester police, the Olmsted County attorney’s office, and Safe Harbor can work together.

The Olmsted County Attorney’s Office reviews messages and texts from the would-be “johns” to ensure that law enforcement has established probable cause and can charge the suspects with engaging in prostitution.

“Oftentimes people are cryptic, they’re trying to avoid law enforcement detection, or they’re using terms that are up-and-coming in the human trafficking world — terms to try to solicit without being detected by law enforcement,” Whitney said.

Safe Harbor, she said, also works with law enforcement in case they encounter any victims of human trafficking online, via messages, or in person at the time of the sting.

Olmsted County and Rochester law enforcement consider any form of prostitution “human trafficking,” whether a victim is operating alone, with a promoter, or as part of a prostitution ring.

“What we do know is that often they are not acting independently for long,” she said.

The Olmsted County attorney’s office generally does not charge people who are being trafficked with a crime, Whitney said.

Alleged patrons of prostitution are charged with a gross misdemeanor, which usually results in probation and a class on the effects of human trafficking on victims.

Of course, there can be heavier charges or penalties for those who are on their second prostitution arrest (a possible felony), who are attempting to recruit or solicit people for sex, or who may have been involved with an underage victim of human trafficking.

Whitney said she did not know of any prior prostitution convictions among the suspects in Monday’s arrests.

Prostitution and human trafficking arrests are still relatively rare, Whitney said, as they usually require the cooperation of trafficked persons who may want to protect their promoter or other contacts.