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Vice control


OKC police hope to deter participation in the ‘world’s oldest profession.’

Clifton Adcock October 26th, 2011

The Oklahoma City Council revised city code, allowing the Oklahoma City Police Department to impound vehicles used to facilitate prostitution.

While police say the ordinance will help discourage prostitution, others say it will have no effect, or in some cases, further complicate the issue.

The revision amends a section of code that deals with drive-by shootings and eluding police officers, labeling both crimes a “public nuisance” and allowing for the impoundment of the vehicles used in those crimes.

The amendment adds prostitution-related crimes to the list, allowing for the impoundment of either the “John’s” or the prostitute’s car for up to 90 days at a cost of $20 per day for storage fees, a $100 administrative fee, with a maximum cost per vehicle of $1,900, plus the towing charge.

“The proposed ordinance will assist the police department in enforcing the state prostitution laws and municipal prostitution ordinances, while also permitting the police department to assist the communities which currently have a systemic prostitution issue,” the OKCPD wrote in a memo to the council.

‘A pilot program’
The revision was first introduced to the council by Police Chief Bill Citty (pictured) at the Oct. 4 meeting, and after undergoing the mandatory three public hearings, was unanimously passed at the Oct. 18 meeting. It will take effect 30 days after the vote.

Download a PDF of the Oct. 9 ordinance amendments.

Citty said when the nuisance abatement ordinance was introduced about three years ago, there was consideration of whether to put prostitution offenses on the list. That did not happen at the time, but after three years in effect, Citty said the time is right to apply the effort to other crimes.

“It was kind of a pilot program,” Citty said. “We would look at it and see how effective it was and if it was beneficial.”

Sgt. Gary Knight of the OKCPD said the revision helps deter prostitution.

“It gives us one extra tool in our arsenal to fight prostitution,” Knight said. “There’s the old saying ‘Prostitution is world’s oldest profession.’ It continues to be a problem, continues (to be) something we still deal with. Hopefully, this will create more of a deterrent to someone considering engaging in that activity.”

Download a PDF of the City Council's financial impact report.

However, not all are convinced that the revision will have the desired impact.

Brian Bates (pictured, right), the so-called Video Vigilante who has made a name for himself videotaping and publicly airing videos of prostitutes and Johns soliciting them, said he thinks the revision is nothing more than empty legislation.

“In the larger scope of things, I’m not behind it and I don’t support it, simply because it isn’t needed,” said Bates, who was a member of former Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane’s Alliance Against Prostitution. “If it dissuades one John from going out on Robinson, so be it, but I don’t think much thought was put into this ordinance. I think it’s typical legislative ‘paper tiger’ stuff.”

For Johns, the threat of losing a car because of solicitation of prostitution is pretty low on their list of priorities, Bates said, and once a car is impounded, it not only hurts the man, but his family as well.

“I didn’t hear anything from City Council that explained why they wanted to do this except they wanted the Johns to think twice before going down there,” Bates said. “They already know they’re risking their marriage, their job, their finances, their reputation. All of these things take a higher priority over your ’98 Taurus. They don’t care about their car.”

Bates said the amended code might actually reinforce a prostitute’s behavior.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Bates said. “For the prostitutes, if they happen to own a car, it’s probably the only possession they have, and you’re going to take that away from her because you think that’s going to make her not prostitute anymore? That just reinforces the idea she already has that society has put her in this pigeonhole position where this is the best she will do.”

Download a PDF of city manager James Couch's memo recommending the ordinance's adoption.

In larger operations, vehicles used by prostitutes often belong to a pimp, and if he is not arrested at the scene, he can go retrieve the impounded car the next day, since it is not in the prostitute’s name, Bates said.

Seizing cars when they are used to facilitate prostitution was suggested by former District Attorney Lane to the Alliance Against Prostitution in 2003, Bates said, and after the committee studied the effects of such laws in other states, it was determined that it would have no substantial impact and the idea was dropped.

Bates also criticized the idea of grouping prostitution-related offenses, which are often misdemeanors, with violent offenses like drive-by shootings and police car chases.

“There are terrible examples of women being exploited and trafficked, and I’ve fought for that for years,” Bates said. “But, I’m a realist. Most of the people I find on Robinson are victims of their own decisions; they’re not victims of anything more sinister than the fact they got addicted to drugs.”

Underlying issues
Bates said he thinks addressing the underlying issues that cause prostitution are more important than passing laws that would have little effect.

“I just think they’re patting themselves on the back. What they need to be concentrating on is: Why are the prostitutes out there to begin with, and what can we do to help them get off the streets?” Bates said. “But that is so much more complicated than, ‘Hey, let’s pass another law.’ It’s a whole lot easier to say, ‘Everyone press your little button. All “yeas.” It’s unanimous. It’s done: We’ve solved prostitution.’” Does Citty believe the revision will reduce prostitution crimes?

“We’ll see. It may not. We don’t know,” Citty said. “We try a lot of different things in law enforcement. We try a lot of things to see if it will deter prostitution. Time will tell. All you can do is try. We don’t have anything at this point to say if it will or it won’t, but I think it’s definitely worth a try.”

Photo of Bill Citty by Mark Hancock

 
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