Thursday, November 6, 2003

Carmen Mauriello

Police, city residents outline options to fight prostitution

Banning convicted prostitutes from certain streets, adding drug treatment options and even sending postcards to the homes of "johns" were hailed last night as ways to fight the sex trade in the shadow of the State House.

Prosecutors, police and about 40 residents decided at a City Hall forum that immediate action is needed. They cited inadequate penalties for convicted prostitutes and deteriorating quality of life for residents along inner West Street in downtown Annapolis.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Cogan announced that his office would take on the prostitution problem as a special project after hearing public concerns at the forum.

Barbara Tower of Murray Hill said she fears the prostitution could bring more violence to her neighborhood, where a man with a history of prostitution arrests was killed last year.

"The reason we're here is because we're desperate — we can't live this way," she said. "We need you people to give us some assurance that you're going to be working as hard as we are concerned about the problem."

Her daughter, Alex Sears, then told of a male driver propositioning her Tuesday night on West Street — while she was passing out fliers for the forum.

Standing up, the mother of three, dressed in a conservative black outfit, drew laughs by asking: "I don't think y'all think I look like a prostitute."

As one-prong of their approach, prosecutors will ask judges to ban convicted prostitutes from certain neighborhoods as part of their probation.

Mr. Cogan said the bans would need to be narrowly tailored to the area where the crime occurred and that the restrictions could be limited to certain time periods.

Police enforcement would be the key, he said. Undercover stings will be needed to round up prostitutes. After restrictions are imposed, police must arrest any prostitutes who violate their probation and return.

Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson, frustrated by repeat prostitution offenders, said the bans should drive prostitutes off inner West Street — where most of the solicitation occurs — and could later be applied to other neighborhoods.

Police have made 33 prostitution arrests this year though an officer estimated there's less than 10 streetwalkers in Annapolis.

Many residents nodded or spoke briefly in support of the bans, but called loudly for more action against johns.

Popular ideas were banning those convicted from communities or impounding their cars for 48 hours.

"They've got to go home and explain to their wives what happened with the car," one woman said.

Mr. Cogan said impounding cars raises constitutional law issues, and banning johns would be less effective because they're harder to monitor.

What came out of the discussion, though, was a technique being used by the Clay Street Public Safety Team. Police Lt. Robert Beans said its members have been recording the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles and then sending bright-colored postcards to the vehicle owners' homes saying their car was spotted in a high-crime area.

"We can do that?" Mrs. Sears asked enthusiastically, as others clapped.

Several residents expressed interest in working with police to start a postcard program. Many also jumped at Mr. Cogan's idea to have neighborhood residents give statements at prostitutes' sentencing hearings — showing judges it's not a victimless crime.

As some voiced concern about the ban merely moving the problem to another neighborhood, Mr. Cogan said expanding treatment options would be part of prosecutors' initiative.

He said that nearly all prostitutes abuse drugs and that drug rehabilitation is often a part of their probation. Other county social services are available now, but Mr. Cogan said his office would begin looking for programs aimed specifically at reforming prostitutes' lives.

Larry Griffin said he's running one such program just a few blocks off West Street at the Stanton Community Center.

His organization, We Care and Friends, places prostitutes and others with drug addictions into rehabilitation and, upon completing it, assigns them mentors who spend time with them and encourage them to change their lifestyles.

Mr. Cogan admitted it won't be easy to reform prostitutes, saying they're often at a low point in life and resistant to treatment.

Still, many of those present last night expressed hope that the new ideas represent the best shot at beating a long-term problem.

"I think we have a team now with the citizens, the State's Attorney, the city and the Police Department, and I think that's the way to approach it," Mrs. Sears said.

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Created: November 24, 2003
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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