- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Keija and Valencia no longer stand on street corners to sell sex in downtown Washington they cruise by in luxury cars.

The two young women, like many other prostitutes in the city, have responded to the Metropolitan Police Department's two-year crackdown on open-air sex markets by trading sidewalks for cars.

The trend has prostitutes soliciting customers from inside Jaguars, Cadillacs and other luxury cars as they cruise through the area around the D.C. Convention Center and other streets with high pedestrian counts.

The police department's prostitution crackdown, led by the Prostitution Task Force, has reduced the overall number of streetwalkers in the city, police said, and cut into the income of those remaining.

"They cracked down on us. The police. That's the reason we're in our cars," said Keija, 23.

Keija has been working the Washington streets for five years and has been arrested numerous times. She said she has never seen business so slow.

"We're only making $200 to $300 on a good night. I used to make at least $500 a night," she said.

Desire, 22, also used to get picked up by "johns" while she strolled along the sidewalks. Now she circles the same areas driving a tan Chevrolet Suburban.

"I work every night until 3, 4, 5 o'clock in the morning. I used to get out and park and walk around. I can't do that now or I'll get arrested," Desire said.

Police officers in the task force said most prostitutes have to give all or most of their money to the pimps who buy the luxury cars that have become an indispensable part of doing business.

Assistant Chief William McManus, commander of the Central Regional Operations Command, has run the Prostitution Task Force since the summer of 1998. He said he has not heard of any other cities where prostitutes mostly work from their cars to get business.

"They are like drug dealers. When you put the pressure on them, they move inside," Chief McManus said. "Now that the pressure is on them, they can't continue to stand there on the corner or they'll get locked up."

The three prostitutes, who would identify themselves to The Washington Times only by their street names, admit they used to work the corners around 11th and K streets NW, 14th Street and Logan Circle, looking for customers who would pay between $50 and $200 for illegal sex. The women now drive around the downtown area with their inside dome and vanity mirror lights on, signaling availability to potential customers.

On Thursday night, the only woman working the area from a corner was Kim Crosby, who was dolled up in leather hot pants. It took Miss Crosby less than five minutes to attract a would-be customer and in less than an hour she had been solicited for sex by four different men.

The men, however, got a ride to a police lockup rather than a quick tryst with Miss Crosby, a D.C. police officer assigned to the police department's Prostitution Task Force.

"You have to look the part to do this," Officer Crosby said. "They never really suspect I'm a police officer until they get arrested."

While Officer Crosby is negotiating with a potential customer, Detective Terry Thorne is standing in a park across the street and Detective Mark Gilkey is in the alley behind her. Officer Crosby will have the men who solicited sex from her drive into a parking lot, where they are promptly swarmed by undercover and uniformed officers.

"We used to fill up a parking lot," Detective Gilkey said.

That night, two cars were left by men who had been arrested.

Officer Crosby got a surprise Thursday when two women pulled up in a Lexus and asked her the price for a threesome with them.

"That never happened to me before. I didn't know what to say. Those women were knockdown gorgeous," Officer Crosby said. "That's so bad."

They never cemented a deal, though, so the women left without being arrested.

The task force has been in operation for more than four years, but it had become a stepchild of the 1st and 3rd police districts. Chief McManus said the unit was not effective because it was poorly equipped and did not have leadership when he inherited the program two years ago.

"The problems were a lack of ownership and leadership. For the most part, I managed to get them new cars and cellular phones and an office. Before they were in the basement at 3D [the 3rd District]," Chief McManus said.

The unit, which has about a dozen officers, received a meritorious award last night for its work cleaning up street prostitution over the last two years.

The unit also investigates transvestite prostitution near K and Fifth streets NW and has begun investigating Asian brothels and massage parlors. The newest wrinkle is prostitutes soliciting on the Internet.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans' ward covers most of the old red-light district, and he has spent countless hours working with constituents and the police to move the prostitutes out. He said that over the last two years he has received only a few complaints.

"We've seen a virtual elimination of prostitution as it existed," said the Ward 2 Democrat. "The flamboyant, regional prostitution that invaded us for so many years, we don't see any more."

Detective Gilkey gives some of the credit to judges and prosecutors for hitting prostitutes with tougher penalties and fines. First-time offenders can be fined up to $300, but until there was a crackdown, the maximum fine was rarely assessed.

"You would always see fines of $25 to $50 normally," Detective Gilkey said. "The [Superior Court] commissioners are giving them fines closer to $300. I have not seen any of the old $50 fines in a while."

Besides keeping an eye out for the known prostitutes, the task force members are ever vigilant for new women working the streets.

Last Thursday, they spotted a woman driving a black Mercedes near Thomas Circle who looked vaguely familiar. Detectives Gilkey and Thorne parked across the street from the drugstore the woman entered and called for Officer Thomas Boone, who was driving in a pickup truck, as a decoy.

When the woman came out of the store, Officer Boone pulled up beside her and began talking. A moment later he pulled away and radioed to Detective Gilkey, "That's a negative. She says she's not a prostitute."

Detective Gilkey said they checked the license plate on the vehicle later and found the vehicle was owned by a woman who works for an escort service.

"Between calls she will try to work out of her car," said Detective Gilkey, who has worked prostitution for 17 of his 19 years on the force.

Detective Gilkey said that in order to keep the sex trade under control, police have to be patient to reel in the prostitutes still working in the city.

"It's a lot like fishing."

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