METRICH targeted 15 men and 15 women in a prostitution operation Thursday stemming from Internet sites.

By the end of the day, law enforcement had located 17 of the wanted persons and 13 are still at large.

Authorities attempted to serve 30 arrest warrants for persons who were identified to be involved in prostitution or soliciting prostitution, according to METRICH.

The arrest warrants are the result of a three-month investigation that was conducted by the Mansfield and Ashland METRICH Enforcement Unit.

Mansfield police Chief Kenny Coontz said he is hoping through the arrests that authorities can go one step farther to find out why women chose this path and then get them into appropriate counseling or treatment programs.

Coontz said METRICH is working with the Mansfield courts and law director’s office.

“The goal obviously is to prevent them from going back on social media to engage in prostitution,” Coontz said.

“We don’t want to underscore this event; we are going after the men who are patronizing them,” he added.

The operation swept across Richland and Ashland counties Thursday morning as teams of law enforcement officers rounded up women and men in various neighborhoods.

Ashland police Chief David Marcelli said his department decided to take part in the METRICH operation with Ashland’s part being to make cases against men seeking women for prostitution.

“We did this from over the course of April to mid May and over a month we made 15 cases,” Marcelli said.

“We placed an advertisement on the Internet and in less than a month we had almost 300 inquiries, which was disturbing,” Macelli said. “The first two weeks we had 144 email messages (from males expressing interest) and then we added a cell phone number and received 153 text messages.”

Macelli said because of a limited amount of resources and time, the department was only able to fully investigate 15 persons who responded to the ad and showed up to solicit the female confidential informant for sexual activity. Of the 15 suspects, 75 percent resided in the City of Ashland, Ashland County or were currently working in these areas. The remaining 25 percent showed up from adjacent counties, he added.

Macelli said more similar sweeps are forthcoming.

“We’re not going to tolerate this prostitution,” he said. “It’s not just about the prostitution. There’s all sorts of related crimes to this. The issue of human trafficking. Are these women doing this on their own or is someone forcing them into it?”

Macelli said teaming with Mansfield, the goal is to help these 15 women get into treatment and off the streets.

Neighbors seemed pleased to see police on the streets.

On Koogle Road, the former motel turned apartment complex along U.S. 30 attracted numerous people who came outside to see what was going on as authorities handcuffed a woman and placed her in a cruiser.

The women the News Journal witnessed being arrested looked stunned and were led away peacefully.

The METRICH team the News Journal traveled with during the operation included Dickson Avenue, Rowland Avenue, Bartley Avenue, Greenwood Avenue, South Diamond Street, Hedges Street and Park Avenue East.

Authorities arrested one woman outside Grace Episcopal Church at Third and Bowman streets at the weekly food pantry.

Authorities also knocked on doors. At least once, they did not find the person they were targeting but found others with outstanding warrants.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the persons not yet located are encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agencies.

Lt. Joy Stortz commended the involved law enforcement agencies for their cooperation and pursuing those crimes that threaten the very moral integrity within our community.

The prostitution roundup was conducted by the Mansfield METRICH Enforcement Unit in cooperation with the Ashland METRICH Enforcement Unit, FBI, Richland County Sheriff’s Office, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, Galion Police Department, Bellville Police Department, Shelby Police Department, Ashland Police Department, Ashland County Sheriff’s Office and the Mansfield Police Major Crimes Unit.

Originally published in the News Journal on May 22, 2015.