Gates / Canandaigua, N.Y. --- Police agencies are going online to crackdown on prostitution.
"We had no idea when we started this just how big this really is and I think it's because online through your cell phone or computer, it's all very anonymous," Gates Police Chief David DiCaro said.
In Gates over the last several months DiCaro’s officers have totaled more than fifty arrests through investigations that began with Backpage.com. Police claim that a lot of the local activity in prostitution begins with contacts on that social networking website.
"The ones that we've contacted and arrested it's been made abundantly clear that prostitution is their main reason for being on Backpage," Detective Sergeant Scott Kadien of the Canandaigua Police Department said.
Canandaigua Police only recently launched these undercover investigations and each of the two arrests they made over the last two weeks also came with additional charges. Amanda Leach, 22 of Greece, was issued numerous traffic citations that may result in fines more costly than her Class B Misdemeanor charge of Prostitution. Brianna Cerrillo, 18, of Canandaigua was also charged with possession of marijuana and underage possession of alcohol at the time of her arrest.
Last week an undercover sting in Gates ended with two arrests for felony robbery and larceny charges. In that bust Chief DiCaro said one of his undercover sergeant’s was robbed at knifepoint at the end of the transaction. Kristi Simonson and Charod White were both taken into custody and the officer escaped unharmed.
“Robberies, which is what happened in this case, fortunately it was a police officer who was a victim in this case because it was an officer and we were in position to take the people into custody,” said DiCaro. "We've actually made arrests and brought people in that were involved in very serious handgun crimes and other things."
"In our latest arrest we had a situation where we thought there was a possibility that it could've turned dangerous,” Sgt. Kadien said. “The lady that we arrested brought down what she called her security team and they were hidden in a van nearby where our transaction took place."
Moreover, police worry that crimes associated with this activity are not often reported to police out of fear, embarrassment, or shame.
"There can be potential predators out there looking to hurt these females and one of the things that's a real cause for concern is if they are a victim what's the likelihood that they're going to report it because they're engaging in criminal behavior," Sgt. Kadien said. “"Our concerns are this type of activity not only is it a crime in and of itself but it breeds crime and it brings crime to Canandaigua and it can bring violent crime with it at certain times.”
Neither police agency said these prostitution arrests are a top priority but both plan to continue to monitor developments and initiate undercover investigations whenever they deem it appropriate.