- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would allow police to impound vehicles that they think have been used in prostitution.

In addition, the council is mulling a bill that would criminalize the act of prostitution and allow the police chief to declare “prostitution-free zones.” Currently, only solicitation for prostitution is a criminal act in the District.

“Prostitution is something we’ve been dealing with for quite a while,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said. “This is just one more attempt at trying to put something in place that will give us an added tool.”

In the early 1990s, areas surrounding Franklin Square and Logan Circle in Northwest were prostitution hot spots. Efforts led by council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, helped drive those streetwalkers out of his ward and into other jurisdictions outside the District, he said.

Although prostitution remains a nuisance in the Logan Circle area, it is largely confined to certain blocks of Rhode Island and New York avenues in Northeast, where prostitutes tend to work for drug money, officials said.

Under the new legislation, police would be permitted to tow and impound any vehicle found parked outside a brothel or used in any capacity giving police “probable cause.” The owner would be forced to pay a fine of $150 plus towing costs to get the vehicle back. It would not allow police to keep the vehicles or sell them at auction.

“At the end of the day, it means that if someone is using their car to procure prostitution services, that car gets taken,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Kenneth L. Wainstein. “And for one thing, that person is going to have some explaining to do.”

The bill is scheduled for review by the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee on March 14.

Also scheduled for a March 14 review is the Omnibus Public Safety Act, a hefty 22-title crime bill sponsored by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams that includes language that would criminalize the act of prostitution.

Under current D.C. law, only the offer to buy or sell sex — not the act itself — is illegal.

Solicitation currently is punishable by a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail for the first offense, a $750 fine and up to 135 days in jail for the second offense and a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail for the third.

Punishment would not change under the new law.

The law would also allow for “prostitution-free zones.” Similar to the “drug-free zones” currently used by D.C. police to discourage people who do not live in the neighborhood from hanging around.

The new laws would allow stricter enforcement and easier punishment of those who patronize prostitutes, officials said.

“There needs to be something for people who patronize prostitutes,” Chief Ramsey said. “There needs to be something in place that causes them to think twice before they do that.”

The D.C. Council enacted a bill in the early 1990s authorizing the police confiscation of vehicles used for prostitution. The vehicles not only could be impounded, but could be seized and sold at auction by police.

That law later was thrown out by a federal appeals court after it was found to be unconstitutional.

Miami, Tampa, Fla., Los Angeles and Minnesota have similar impoundment laws, officials said.

“The point of the legislation is not to fill our jails with prostitutes, but to get them out of our city,” said Bob Ellison, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F. “It would impound the vehicles of johns, and let them know that prostitution will not be tolerated in the District. And if they do use prostitution in the District, they will have the embarrassment of having to get their vehicle out.”

The new legislation is driven, in part, by Logan Circle residents looking to rid their neighborhood of the practice once and for all.

“I’m not under the illusion that I can solve prostitution, but what I’m trying to do is deal with this problem in my ward,” Mr. Evans said. “The idea here is not to seize cars and keep them. The idea is to stop prostitution.”

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