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Largo prostitution sting a first

(ran SS edition of Metro & State, ET edition of Tampa & State)

It was obvious that prostitution was a problem along a strip of Clearwater-Largo Road, but police officers involved in Largo's first solicitation sting took nothing for granted.

Largo police spokeswoman Allison Griffiths said planning for the undercover operation took about two months and included gathering intelligence. Officers also arranged with some residents in the neighborhood to use their property.

The city's first prostitution sting lasted five hours Friday night and culminated in six arrests.

Two St. Petersburg men, two Clearwater men and two Largo men were charged with solicitation for prostitution. Depending on a person's criminal arrest history, conviction of the misdemeanor charge usually results in probation and a fine.

"This was the first time the department has done this," Griffiths said. "A whole lot of work went into it, and it was a real learning experience."

During the operation, undercover officers posed as prostitutes along Clearwater-Largo Road north of East Bay Drive. When a motorist solicited sex, the decoy directed him to meet her at what Griffiths described as "a nearby facility."

Detectives monitored the place, and when money exchanged hands, she said, officers moved in to arrest the "john." Griffiths declined to describe the place because people in the neighborhood provided it for officers to use and it may be used in future crackdowns.

"The area is known for prostitution, but not the facility," she said.

She said 21 other solicitations occurred but did not result in arrests.

"These were men who solicited sex and then changed their minds or something like that," Griffiths said. "They stopped and spoke to the undercover officers so we consider that a solicitation."

Most law enforcement agencies conduct such stings periodically to attack the prostitution problem through the customers. In some areas, including St. Petersburg, the names of johns are televised.

A state law also permits revocation of driver's licenses from those convicted of soliciting while behind the wheel. Griffiths said the names of men arrested were referred to state driver's license officials.