News

City to step up fight against prostitution

"While they sell trophies and awards, Jan Pool and Jo Anna Westlind watch other women selling themselves along Pacific Highway.Every week for the last few years, the DJ Trophy's owner and manager have seen prostitutes stroll up and down the busy thoroughfare. Women walk up to vehicles that are preparing to turn out of the strip mall and onto the street, Pool and Westlind say. The women, whom Pool and Westlind have come to recognize, chat with drivers for a few minutes before climbing into their vehicles. Minutes later, they return to stroll once more. Pool and Westlind say they've seen police officers patrol the area and make arrests. In fact, they praise police for responding to the 911 calls of business owners desperate for a solution. But the prostitutes and the solicitors come back.Pool says she's mulling whether to move her business from the building in the 33100 block of Pacific Highway where it's been located for 14 years. Westlind, who says prostitutes have even approached DJ Trophy customers, doesn't blame her.But both say they're hopeful about the Federal Way City Council's proposal to designate the entire strip of Pacific Highway South - and the area two blocks east and west of the highway - as an area of stepped-up prostitution enforcement with a Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution (SOAP) ordinance. We're tried other means, community meetings, block watch. That hasn't helped, Westlind said. In other cities, (SOAP has) worked well. We want anything that is going to make it go away.If they're known prostitutes, they're out of here, Pool said.During the Sept. 19 meeting, the council is scheduled to approve the SOAP ordinance. The proposal is on the consent agenda. That means that unless one of the council members pulls the item for discussion, it will be approved without comment.The intent is to deter chronic offenders, of which Federal Way has several, from repeating their crimes in Federal Way. Deputy Public Safety Chief Brian Wilson says he doubts the SOAP ordinance will push prostitutes and their clients to other parts of the city because no other areas of the city are as highly trafficked as Pacific Highway South. (SOAP) becomes a real valuable tool to deal with chronic repeat offenders, the people who keep coming back for a proposition, Wilson said. You make the arrest, and then within hours or days, they're back in the area. It's a way to keep them out of the area.SOAP orders work much the same way regardless of the city. Before someone is put on trial or after someone has been found guilty of prostitution or the solicitation of a prostitute, a municipal court judge can issue a SOAP order. Those orders ban the person from that city's designated problem area for prostitution for a specified period of time.It's kind of like a no trespass (order), said Federal Way Municipal Court Judge David Tracy.If a judge issues an order as part of sentencing, the order typically is for a one-year period. However, the order can be for as long as two years for repeat offenders, say officials in other cities that issue SOAP orders.Once issued an order, a person cannot enter the designed SOAP area, regardless of if they're selling or soliciting prostitution at the time. If they do enter the area, they are subject to immediate arrest and face the full sentence for prostitution. In some cities, the full sentence is automatic in such cases; in others, judges decide what punishment to mete out. Depending on the city, prosecution offenses are either a misdemeanor - punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 - or a gross misdemeanor - punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.Although the designated area extends through the entire city, the most problematic area of Pacific Highway South is the stretch is between 324th Street and 336th Street, Wilson said. The police department has known prostitutes frequent that area since taking over law enforcement duties from King County in 1996.Federal Way police have tried to decrease the problem through a variety of strategies, including convincing motel owners not to rent rooms by the hour and having officers park in that area when they complete reports, Wilson said....those looking for prostitutes are not interested in having those actions take place in front of a police officer, he said.Detectives also have played the part of either prostitutes or johns, respectively, to nab people offering or soliciting prostitution, Wilson said. Early in the police department's history, Federal Way officials talked with officials from neighboring cities about adopting a SOAP ordinance. With the opening of the Municipal Court, the city has moved forward with those plans.Pool and Westlind say they hope the SOAP program moves prostitutes out of the area for good. If not, Pool said, the stretch of Pacific Highway where her business sits likely will become the city's skid row. Pool says she won't be around for that if the SOAP ordinance doesn't work.If they don't get it, she said, we'll have to move.Rocky Grinde, manager for Jim's Detailing, and Rod Wertman, owner of Craft Carpet also support the SOAP ordinance. Wertman operated his business for 25 years our of Secoma Village before moving it to 324th Street. He says he used to call police every week, and says he'd come to recognize regular prostitutes.He said police used to step up patrols at different times, but that the strategy wasn't very effective.They know when there's a lot of action, and they know when they (police) back off, he said of the prostitutes.He said he used to get calls from customers who left after seeing prostitutes.They'd tell him, 'I left because of the people in front of your business,' he said. It deters people coming up when you have that kind of atmosphere.---------------------- Prostitution by the numbers1997: 40 prostitution arrests, 32 for prostituting and eight for patronizing a prostitute.1998: 22 arrests, 13 for prostituting, seven for patronizing and two for promoting.1999: eight arrests, seven for prostituting and one for patronizing.2000 (through Aug. 31): 23 arrests, 18 for prostituting and five for patronizing.Source: Federal Way Department of Public Safety-----------------------By TAMMY BATEYAssistant editorCities that want to deter prostitution must work together, say attorneys from other South King County cities.For Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution orders to work effectively, cities up and down Pacific Highway must consistently issue them, said SeaTac prosecutor Heidi Mytinger.Especially if you consider the proximity between the cities, Mytinger said, if we have an area of prostitution and we enforce it and the other (city) doesn't, all (prostitutes) have to do is walk 100 feet and they're OK.The goal, agreed Des Moines City Attorney Gary McLean, isn't to move the problem from our jurisdiction to yours. McLean and other area prosecutors say they're pleased Federal Way has committed to issuing SOAP orders. With such an order, the city designates an official area from which known prostitutes and solicitors will be banned.That's good to hear, said Kent prosecutor Rhonda Giger.Such orders can save cities money because they enable officers to arrest known prostitutes and solicitors of prostitution simply because they're in an area, McLean said. Sting operations cost much more officer time.Stings can be expensive, and are only effective for the day or two you're able to deploy them, he said. You can't do those all day, every day. The goal of SOAP orders is to impact the criminal version of basic supply and demand, Giger said. Since prostitution typically occurs in specific areas of a city, cities can affect it. You take away the supply, hopefully you reduce the demand, she said.Mytinger said she considers such orders an effective tool for cities to use to deter prostitution. An order essentially puts someone on notice, she said.That notice doesn't scare off all prostitutes and solicitors of prostitution from a designated area, Mytinger said. But many prostitutes and solicitors of prostitution take such orders seriously, she said.If you can hang something over someone's head - additional jail time - it really seems to deter crime, she said. It at least gives people pause. "

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