- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

D.C. police aim to arrest twice as many prostitutes and their clients as they did last year because more officers are investigating the crime and the city has changed its prosecution procedures, says the city’s top prostitution investigator.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s Prostitution Enforcement Unit has arrested 800 people this year and expects 700 more arrests by the end of the year, said Detective Mark A. Gilkey.

Last year, officers made 968 prostitution-related arrests and 432 in 2001, Detective Gilkey said, noting the upward trend in arrests.

“The big reason [for the increased arrests] is the added manpower,” the detective said, noting that six officers were added to the unit in January to raise its total manpower to 16.

In addition, the unit has begun to focus on streetwalkers’ customers, some of whom recently have been discovered to be among the District’s most active and violent criminals.

Court documents from last weekend’s roundup of 54 prostitution customers, or “johns,” in Southeast show that at least three previously had been charged with armed kidnapping, four with assault, two with armed robbery, eight with drug crimes and three with possession of an unregistered firearm.

Cmdr. Winston Robinson Jr. of the 7th Police District, where the men were arrested, said johns also make easy targets for muggers, carjackers and killers.

Detective Gilkey said the D.C. courts are aiding in the prostitution crackdown.

Last month, city officials started a “prostitution court” to handle cases from the 1st through 5th districts. Prostitution cases from the 6th and 7th districts are heard in one court under a similar arrangement.

It is too early to measure the benefits of the court, Detective Gilkey said. He hopes it will serve defendants better because one judge, rather than several, will hear all the cases and be able to determine the needs of offenders who keep returning.

It already is cutting down on the time some officers spend in court, he added.

The prostitution unit moved its offices from the department’s Regional Operations Center to the Major Narcotics Branch in January, and Detective Gilkey, who had supervised the unit since August 2001, became its senior investigator.

“I’m sort of the department expert on prostitution,” he said.

The city’s attention to prostitution — and related crimes — reflects a shift in priorities from the days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when streetwalkers were routinely rounded up, booked and released.

The issue became a political crisis in July 1989, when a D.C. police sergeant early one morning marched 24 prostitutes across the 14th Street bridge into Virginia. According to news reports, it was an act of frustration among officers who felt as if they were just moving the prostitutes from one part of Logan Circle to another.

And the situation worsened in the 1990s.

Some neighborhoods had so many prostitutes that city officials prohibited cars from turning onto certain streets. They also increased the bond for failing to obey a police officer and seized customers’ cars. One mayoral candidate in 1998 even suggested legalized prostitution.

In response, police officials overhauled a prostitution task force that had been operating out of the basement of the 3rd District station. The officers got new cars, cellular telephones and a new office at the Regional Operations Center.

Assistant Chief William McManus, who ran the unit at the time, put so much pressure on streetwalkers that they began working from inside luxury cars to avoid arrest.

A prostitute told The Washington Times in 2000 that the crackdown was working because she was making only $200 to $300 on a good night. “I used to make at least $500 a night,” she said.

Now, the Prostitution Enforcement Unit is delving into long-term investigations. An interdepartmental report on its activities shows police conducted three major inquiries into organized prostitution last year.

One investigation ended with a guilty plea; the second was dropped when two prostitutes could not provide sufficient evidence. The third — against a man indicted for transporting minors across state lines for prostitution — is set for trial on Aug. 5.

The unit also devotes attention to massage parlors and the Internet’s illegal sex trade, according to the report.

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