Police lights
Police lights (Baltimore Sun)

Eleven men were arrested for solicitation of prostitution and related charges during an undercover operation Wednesday, Howard County Police announced Friday.

Officers arrested the would-be "johns" — ranging in age from 22 to 47 — for soliciting prostitution at a hotel in the 5400 block of Twin Knolls Road in Columbia.


As part of the sting, detectives placed fake ads on Backpage, a website police say is used for prostitution listings.

Men who called the number in the ad spoke with an undercover female police officer who provided a meeting location upon the caller's request.

When the men arrived and offered money for sex, they were arrested and charged with solicitation of prostitution and disorderly conduct. None of the men arrested listed a Howard County address.

The undercover operation is part of an ongoing effort to combat prostitution, human trafficking and related crimes in Howard County, police said.

In the past 14 months, those efforts have resulted in 43 arrests, 19 guilty verdicts, one referral to juvenile court and one indictment for human trafficking. Nineteen court cases remain pending, according to police data.

The goal of the stings is to "make Howard County an unappealing place for traffickers and johns," according to a news release from the police department.

In addition to conducting undercover investigations, police routinely post ads on the Backpahe website reminding solicitors of the dangers and penalties of their actions. Officers also monitor internet chat rooms to see how the stings are affecting illegal activity, according to Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for the county police.

"Detectives monitor Backpage and various chat rooms and find that prospective 'johns' talk about avoiding Howard County after these operations are publicly announced," she said.