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In May 2021, the Washington Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct a study of Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) Operation Net Nanny (“Net Nanny”). Net Nanny is a type of undercover law enforcement activity known as an “internet sting operation.” WSP detectives designed Net Nanny to arrest adults who use the internet to solicit sexual activity with minors.
The legislative assignment outlined two objectives for WSIPP’s study. First, the study must describe the current research on internet sting operations. Second, the study must include an analysis that compares the characteristics of individuals convicted through Net Nanny with individuals convicted of child sex offenses through other avenues.
To address the first objective, we reviewed the academic literature on internet sting operations. However, we found limited research on this topic. It is unclear whether these operations are effective at deterring or reducing crime.
To address the second objective, we compiled administrative data on all adults in Washington State who were convicted of child sex crimes since Net Nanny has been active. We used this data to compare two groups: (1) individuals arrested via Net Nanny; and (2) individuals who were arrested through traditional police tactics. We found that individuals in both groups exhibit similar demographic characteristics and criminal history. On average, across these specific measures, individuals convicted through Net Nanny resemble people convicted of completed sexual crimes against minors.