Undercover Prostitution Sting Arrests 79, Mostly Hookers and Johns
Atlanta Police Vice Unit targets Midtown with six-day undercover operation.
"As long as it's good, we can work something out. You cool coming to my place?"
It's a late-night conversation between people exchanging money for sex.
Prostitution has plagued the Midtown community for 30 years or more, according to resident Peggy Denby, president of the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance.
But the past two weekends, Atlanta police have cracked down on the illegal activity.
Members of the Atlanta Police Vice Unit, as well as APEX and Zone 5 officers, arrested 79 people in Midtown during a six-day undercover detail called Operation Summer Heat.
The operation arrested 50 male prostitutes, 11 female prostitutes and 8 johns. Five people were arrested for marijuana sales and five for cocaine sales.
Officers posed as johns, as well as prostitutes, in the area bounded by 10th Street, North Avenue, Boulevard and Spring Street.
"Our ultimate goal really is to better the community," said Lt. Scott Kreher, commander of the Atlanta Police Vice Unit. The unit regularly conducts stings around the city, but decided to target Midtown after seeing a 22 percent increase in prostitution cases from last year.
"Each spring when it turns into summer, we see it pick up," Kreher said. "These aren't just people prostituting. They are hard-core criminals."
Kreher said prostitutes often are involved in drug activity and crimes including aggravated assault. Thursday night, one man arrested for prostitution got so angry he kicked out an interior door of the prisoner transport vehicle.
"They just bring the whole underworld with them," Denby said. She said the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance started its private patrols in 2003 to combat prostitution in the neighborhood.
After the first weekend of the operation, when 39 people were arrested, Kreher said Zone 5 -- which covers Midtown, downtown, Old Fourth Ward and Castleberry Hill -- saw a decrease in crimes such as car break-ins.
"We saw a huge difference, a drop in crime," Kreher said.
The Hot Spots
In Midtown, there are several places where prostitutes tend to linger.
Ponce de Leon Avenue has a long history of prostitution.
Female police officers dressed as prostitutes walked Ponce Friday night to target the corridor. The women hung around places such as the Ponce de Leon Hotel, as well as along the dead-end street behind the Zesto Drive In.
Many of the women prostitutes along Ponce are repeat offenders and heavy drug users, police said. "The ones here on Ponce are more messy," said one officer. Zone 5 officers said they know many by name -- "Fritz," "Dunwoody," and "Ms. Jackie" are a few of the nicknames.
Another hotspot for prostitution is around Piedmont Avenue and 3rd, 4th and Juniper streets. Denby said most of the prostitutes there are transgender people. She lived at 6th and Juniper streets and has dozens of photos of scantily-clad transgender people soliciting for sex in the area.
The first arrest Thursday night was a man walking near Piedmont Avenue and 4th Street. He offered himself for $20 to the undercover officer just after 10 p.m.
The MARTA station along 10th Street and Peachtree Place attracts another demographic of prostitutes -- young, gay men. The men often walk up and down Cypress Street looking for customers. Police arrested a man in his 20s or 30s at the MARTA station Thursday night.
Kreher said the majority of prostitutes in Midtown are men.
The johns who pick up the prostitutes are usually men, Kreher said, who live outside Atlanta or are from out of town. "Very rarely do we catch somebody from the neighborhood," he said.
The going rate for prositutes in Midtown?
Between $20 and $40 for a sex act, police said.
But Kreher said he's seen people accept as little as a bag of chips as payment.
After the Arrest
People arrested for solicitation serve 10 to 15 days in jail for a first offense, Kreher said. A second offense earns 30 days in jail. For a third offense, it's 60 days, and for four, it's 180 days.
But Denby said jail time does little to deter prostitutes. Many consider it part of the profession.
Kreher said he is doubtful that prostitution will ever cease in Midtown.
"It's history, and old habits die hard," he said. "I don't think we will ever be able to get a handle on it."
But undercover stings do help "put the message on the streets that we are out here."
Denby said her hope is that the johns get scared away and the demand for prostitutes lessens.
"It's just a nasty situation," she said. "It's not something anyone should have in their neighborhood."