Saturday, June 20, 2009

Busting prostitution: An efficient use of police resources

So, today I ran across this from A. Lapite (original source at Gotham Gazette):

Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who was arrested for prostitution at the Blue Door in the East Village on Oct. 10, spoke at the town hall meeting. He said a young man — a 29-year old undercover cop who, Pinter said, looked even younger — cruised him in the store. He was "charming and persistent, and we agreed to go home for consensual sex, but as we were leaving he said, 'I want to pay you $50 [to have sex].' I didn't respond, but I thought it was strange," Pinter recounted. As the men left the store, Pinter said, a group of men who did not show police identification pushed him against the wall.

"I thought I'd been set up by a gang," he said. "I asked them why they were doing this to me. I was totally clueless. They handcuffed me and said, 'Why the f--- do you think we're arresting you — loitering for the purpose of prostitution.'"

and this, also via Lapite (read the whole thing, it's short):

It was Rocio Palacios who first noticed the woman who appeared to need help.

It was 8 a.m. when she and her husband, Erasmo, dropped their 6-year-old daughter off at school and had picked up their 22-year-old daughter to go out for breakfast when they saw the woman waving her arms at 53rd Street and Kedzie Avenue last November.

The Palacioses, of Chicago, claim the woman approached their car, parked outside Manolo's restaurant, leaned in to the passenger side where Rocio was sitting and asked Erasmo if he wanted oral sex for $20 or sex for $25.

The couple laughed, realizing this wasn't a woman in distress after all.

But within seconds, Chicago police swarmed the family car, hauling Erasmo Palacios out in handcuffs. He was charged with solicitation of a prostitute.

So, in case you haven't guessed by now, the title of this post is sarcastic.

Now, these two incidents don't prove anything by themselves. But both stories suggest that the police departments in question had adopted questionable policing strategies; and note that the NYPD and CPD are the two largest municipal police forces in nation, and doubtless among the best-funded in the world, with budgets of roughly $3.9 billion and $1.2 billion respectively. If the vice units of these highly professionalized forces are doing stuff like this, what happens elsewhere?

Decriminalizing prostitution may be politically unrealistic, but it seems to me that we ought, at a minimum, to be focusing enforcement effort on its genuinely pernicious aspects: coercive trafficking, prostitution-related violence, and underage prostitution. But, of course, busting a trafficking ring requires hard investigative work, whereas paying an individual undercover cop to "solicit" a consenting adult requires minimal skill and energy.

(Which — sigh — is exactly why we should legalize prostitution itself, and criminalize that which is genuinely harmful. Police have a finite budget of time and will allocate that time efficiently by arresting those lawbreakers who can be most easily apprehended. I'd argue banning prostitution per se makes life easier for trafficking rings by giving vice cops something to do besides busting trafficking rings. But whatever, I'm shouting into the wind here. The gates to prostitution decriminalization are guarded by the three-headed dog of social conservatives plus radical feminists plus the large majority of people who simply find prostitution "icky" and I'm pretty convinced that nothing's ever going to fix this problem in the U.S.)

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