Can SOAP help clean up Midtown's prostitution?
Weekend undercover sting nets 35 arrests; police and city officials look to establish anti-prostitution areas in Midtown.
As they periodically do, the Atlanta Police Vice Unit teamed with Zone 5 officers last weekend to perform an undercover prostitution sting in and around Midtown and downtown Atlanta.
Midtown Patch rode along and witnessed some of the 35 arrests of mostly male and female prostitutes over a two-day period. Midtown has been plagued with pockets of prostitution for decades and warmer weather only brings more streetwalkers to the area each spring and summer.
The charges were city ordinance violations for solicitations of illicit sex acts. If found guilty, the first offense brings 15 days jail time, the second offense is 60 days, and the third offense is 180 days.
But as those who live and work and play in Midtown know all too well, these mandatory sentences do little to stop the habitual offenders, who get out of jail and head back to the streets. The Midtown Ponce Security Alliance has on its website now a brief update on notorious Midtown prostitute Jackie Sue Hunter, who has been selling sex in Midtown and off Ponce de Leon Ave. for almost 40 years. According to the MPSA, she is currently on felony probation (auto theft) awaiting charges of prostitution.
She has served several prison terms and her extended rap sheet supports the theory that prostitution brings further crime to neighborhoods.
“It is a challenge for the residents, it’s a challenge for the police officers that work in vice and Zone 5 to curb and control it as much as possible - to really have an affect on the quality of the life of the residents that live down here,’’ Lt. Scott Kreher, commander of the Atlanta Police Vice Unit, told Patch.
“People think that prostitution is kind of a victimless crime and it’s really not. There is a lot of other property and violent crimes that have come along with prostitution, either it be street level or inside.”
Residents have been dismayed as to why the police can’t do more. The police frustratingly respond that it’s a matter of resources and widespread responsibility. Periodic undercover stings send a message to the pimps, prostitutes and johns, but not at a persistent ratel.
“Of course the vice unit is responsible for illegal gambling, prostitution, and liquor throughout the entire city,” Kreher said. “We do have to hit other parts of the city, but we try to get here as much as we can to help out the residents of the midtown area and Zone 5.”
But good news with regards to Midtown’s longstanding and uphill battle against prostitution could be on the way. The City of Atlanta is working on establishing anti-prostitution areas that has been utilized with success in cities such as Seattle and Washington D.C.
A “Stay Out of Area of Prostitution” (SOAP) order would essentially ban convicted prostitutes from returning to specific areas in neighborhoods for any reason whatsoever. While it may not be the ultimate answer in solving the entire prostitution problem, police do view it as another tool to use in their fight against the crime.
“I think it will help if they know they can be re-arrested on sight just for being in that area,’’ Kreher said. "It is in Seattle; it works for them. What you do, it’s a moving target. So If we do the SOAP order for Cypress (Street) and three months from now, we see that it has kind of curtailed and we don’t see as much (prostitution) anymore, but all of a sudden it's picked up at Ponce (de Leon Ave.) and Monroe (Drive), we can go back to the judge and change the order to Ponce and Monroe and deal with it there.”
Some critics have raised concerns that a SOAP zone could lead to profiling, while others believe the police should have more pressing concerns, such has helping prevent violent and property crime. Still, police and city attorneys are in discussions now on how the order will be implemented and Kreher’s hope is that by summer the APD will have it to use.
“Once we get the (legal) questions answered, then we know how to proceed on drafting the legislation, changing the ordinance depending on whether we can include it as a punishment or have to include it as a voluntary pre-trial program,’’ he said. “Either case, there is a charge already in the books for contempt of court and it would be a contempt of court charge, a criminal charge if they violated that order, by being in the area, and they would go back to jail for a length of time.”
It would take a change of ordinance approved by the Atlanta City Council, but Kreher remains optimistic.
“I hope that the mayor will support us,’’ he said. “It is a tedious process, but I am hoping by June we will be on the right path.”