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Hookers face hard times in Federal Way

The presence of prostitutes has decreased in the past decade — but they have, by no means, vacated the city.

“We have a prostitution problem in Federal Way,” Officer Chris Walker said. “It’s no secret.”

Police have made the crime a focus, thus decreasing its occurrence here. The department conducts operations that focus on confronting two forms of this crime: Streetwalkers along with prostitution found on the Web site Craigslist.org, Walker said. Police target the subjects who sell their services and the people who take them up on the offer.

A decade ago, streetwalkers — prostitutes that walk the streets selling themselves — could be found in several locations along Pacific Highway South. These days the police department has introduced tools for addressing this type of crime. The work is done undercover, mostly.

“This department has taken a very aggressive stance toward prostitution,” Walker said.

Officers approach the prostitutes and ask them questions. If the subject reveals anything that gives police probable cause to believe prostitution is taking place, an arrest is made. Hitting the streets and confronting the crime has caused several perpetrators to move their business north toward Des Moines and past South 272nd Street, Walker said. But some of the suspects take their chances and linger around Federal Way.

“It’s very lucrative,” Walker said. “These girls make a lot of money.”

The police department undertakes prostitution stings. One took place as recently as August 7. Seven people were arrested on 25th Avenue South, according to the department’s crime log. A few years ago, police arrested 28 prostitutes near South 272nd Street in a two-week time span, Walker said.

The Internet makes officers’ jobs a bit trickier when it comes to busting call girls and those who seek what they offer. Instead of working the streets, some women post ads on Craigslist, Walker said. They list their prices using words such as roses instead of dollars, he said.

Federal Way police make arrests by posting a false advertisement on the Web site and sending an undercover female officer to pose as a prostitute. The officer tells suspects to meet her at a location. When the respondents get there, they are expecting to pay for a rendezvous.

What they get instead is a scene similar to the Dateline NBC television series “To Catch A Predator,” Walker said. Most of the respondents are not felons or considered harmful, so police simply arrest them and line them up in a back room — while they wait for more suspects to respond to the advertisement. Walker recalls one undercover bust in which 14 men answered a Craigslist posting and were arrested in a two-hour time frame.

Once the suspects are arrested, they are usually released. A court date will follow. There, a judge will decide the amount of fines or jail time appropriate for the crime.

The Craigslist stings can be successful, but they also bring prostitution to Federal Way, Walker said. Not all of the respondents live in the city; some travel for the services they believe are waiting for them.

But, overall, Federal Way officers’ efforts are helping to reduce the crime in the city.

“Ten years ago, it’s a night-and-day difference,” Walker said. “Prostitutes were everywhere.”

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F.Y.I.:

On Sept. 5, the police department began its Citizen’s Academy, an eight-week program designed to educate the public on how Federal Way police operate. In the next few weeks, The Mirror will explore what it takes to be a cop.

A look into patrol, traffic enforcement, criminal investigations, the Valley Communications 911 center, K-9, and narcotics and vice operations will be explored. Keep reading for more stories on who Federal Way’s police are and why they do what they do.

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