Is “street sex” truly as rampant as neighbors claim? See what we learned from riding with cops – and the impact of Portland City Council allowing the Prostitution-free Zone ordinance to expire …
Driving up NE Sandy Blvd. officers spot Gina outside of a tavern near the corner of NE Prescott. Street. “She was excluded from this area last week; we need to talk with her,” Officer Sparling says.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the first installment of this series Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs described how officers use Prostitution-free Zone (PFZ) and Drug-free Zone (DFZ) ordinances. (CLICK HERE to read Street Sex: Part 1)
However, at midnight on September 30, the Portland’s PFZ and DFZ ordinances will – as Mayor Tom Potter and the Portland City Council members characterize it – “sunset”.
But the term “sunset” is just a nice way of saying the city fathers are taking away a valuable policing tool by letting it die, neighbors and business people in outer East Portland tell us.
Also in last week’s installment, neighbors told their horror stories about going on “condom and needle patrol” every morning.
On prostitution patrol
To find out of neighbors and businesses along NE Sandy Blvd. and 82nd Ave. of Roses are blowing what they call the “prostitution problem” out of proportion, we ride along with Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officers Lacey Sparling and Heath Kula, late on a Saturday afternoon.
Sparling and Kula are assigned to operate a “prostitution mission”. Their assignment is arresting prostitutes and customers – and taking into custody prostitutes who are violating their police order excluding them from the PFZ.
As we ride to the patrol zone, Kula notes they’ve made more than 80 arrests during their mission.
Sparling shows us a thick stack of papers listing individuals who, under the PFZ ordinance, have been forbidden to tread 82nd Avenue of Roses and NE Sandy Blvd. – except to conduct legitimate business.
“By now,” Sparling adds, “We recognized most of the girls we’ve excluded. In a couple of weeks, we’ve gone from half a page, to over four pages of exclusion listings. We’re going out looking out for the regular girls.”
Prostitutes solicit in broad daylight
Although we ride in a fully-equipped – but totally unmarked – patrol car, officers don’t have to hide in the bushes or sneak around corners.
Even those prostitutes who have been excluded from “working” an area stand and walk brazenly in the afternoon sun, soliciting business. Our first contact comes minutes after we go on patrol.
In Parkrose, Gina talks with officers, trying to explain why she’s hanging around an area from which she’s been officially excluded.
“Camper” on Sandy Blvd.
At NE Sandy Blvd. and NE Prescott Street, the officers spot familiar faces. They pull into the parking lot of a popular watering hole.
The young woman, Gina, doesn’t notice as we pull up; her boyfriend wanders off, leaving Gina to talk with police. Gina heads back into the bar – but the establishment’s manager meets her at the door and tells her, “You’re still working; you’re not welcome in here. Don’t come back.”
Sparling says the couple claims their car broke down when they were visiting Portland a few weeks ago from Eugene and they don’t have money to fix it. Currently, they’re “camping” in a wooded area on the border of The Grotto.
They ask Gina if she has any drugs or money with her. She says she doesn’t do drugs, and “my stupid boyfriend takes the money. Every cent I get, he takes it all”.
Gina was originally arrested for flagging down a car and getting in, ostensibly, for sex. She tells officers she doesn’t actually perform a sex act. “I tell them we’ll do something, but I take their money and run away,” Gina reminds officers.
Kula asks, “When you get $50 or $100, why don’t you just take the bus back to Eugene?”
Gina starts crying and blurts out, “I don’t know. I’ve got to help my boyfriend. He handles the money.”
Officer Sparling takes Gina in custody. The suspect will be taken to the Portland Justice Center for booking, then she’ll be released.
Gina doesn’t implicate her boyfriend, who has now moved west, across NE Prescott St., and is leaning up against the Ace Tavern. He looks unconcerned that his “girlfriend” is being handcuffed and taken to jail.
The first time they arrested Gina, Sparling says, as we drive away, she was an attractive young lady. “Now, only weeks later, she looks to be in her late 30s. This life really ages them.”
It takes nearly an hour to fill in four forms during the arrest. “All of the paperwork is necessary. As police, we’re trained to accurately document the arrest.”
Officers see Loretta “on the stroll” – trying to flag down a potential customer along SE 82nd Ave. of Roses – directly across the street from Vestal Elementary School.
Along the 82nd Ave. of Roses “stroll”
Driving along NE 82nd Avenue of Roses, officers spot another subject. The woman appears to be “on the stroll” – a street phrase meaning a prostitute is seeking business.
“Isn’t that Loretta?” Kula asks
Sparling checks the sheet and photo gallery she holds. “Yes. This gal, after we arrested her, she was working out here [again] eight hours later,” she comments. “Her PFZ exclusion is still active.”
“She can be in the PFZ exclusion zone for services, food, shopping and medical attention,” Kula explains. “We must have ‘probable cause’ that she is violating her variance.”
Officers pull into a parking lot. Loretta pauses by a bus stop, but doesn’t get on board. She loiters, and walks slowly.
“Look, she’s waving at passing cars right now,” Kula points out.
Expressing her displeasure for being interrupted during her Saturday afternoon stroll, Loretta tries to explain why she’s violating her PFZ exclusion order.
Loretta looks at first angry, then frustrated as the officers get out of the car at 82nd Avenue of Roses and NE Everett St, right across the street from Vestal Grade School. She recognizes the officers, saying, “You two again!”
It takes the officers about 45 minutes to fill in a sheaf of paperwork, including an inventory of personal property. A patrol officer takes Loretta to jail for processing.
The value of prostitution missions
Because they’re often back on the street – sometimes within the same day – we ask officers if such prostitution missions really do any good.
“The neighbors say we are helping. And, we’ve arrested a couple of guys who are dangerous – or at least scary,” Sparling says. “We got them off the streets, at least for a while. And, when we send a gal to jail, we may have saved her from an assault, at the very least. There are creeps who prey on these gals.”
Sparling tells of a runaway 17-year-old who almost immediately got hooked up with a pimp. “The guy was a registered sex offender, had a record of rape and prior ‘compelling’ [coercing women into prostitution] cases against him. It felt good to get her away from this guy.”
Tries to “date” officer on patrol
Asked if the problem of street prostitution is as bad as it appears, Kula tells of a time when a prostitute came up to their unmarked patrol car.
“We weren’t trying to pick her up. We were watching a decoy [undercover officer] working a mission. She came up to the car and made a ‘date’ [offer to have sex for money] with me through the passenger window. She didn’t see that the sergeant and I were in uniform. She opened the door and got in the back seat! She jumped out, but we arrested her.”
Sparling adds, “Last week, another girl was about to get in our car. She jumps back and says, ‘Oh, never mind.’ We told her, No, there is no ‘never mind’.”
After refusing to acknowledge that she’s been read, and understands, her rights, Officer Sparling takes Lynae into custody on a Parkrose side street.
Flagging ’em down on Sandy
As we head northeast on Sandy Boulevard, officers point out a woman waving to cars at NE 104th Ave. at the Pacific Pride gas station. There’s nothing covert about her behavior.
We watch as a car slows down. The woman points, indicating the driver should go south on NE 114th Avenue. We pull into the gas station and watch her get into the car.
Kula follows the car; it goes north on NE Wygant Street. Kula turns on the red and blue lights and hits the siren.
“Look at the two of them talk,” Sparling points out. “They’re trying to get a story together to explain away what they’re doing.”
After the car turns north on SE 112rd Avenue, it pulls to a stop. Sparling gets the woman out of the car, Kula talks to the driver, a man who shows him ID with a Salem address.
Says they’re “going to get a taco”
The suspected “john” admits to Kula that he’d never met the woman before. “But he told me they were just heading out to get a taco,” reports Kula. “I ask if it seems odd that he’s going for tacos with a stranger he just picked up. He says the gal was going to take him somewhere to get a taco.”
As Sparling tries to take the woman, Lynae, in custody, the subject becomes very verbal. She appears to be very intoxicated; Lynae was holding a plastic cup half full of a liquid that appears to be a mixture of cola and liquor.
Sparling recites the Miranda Rights to her three times; each time, the woman says she doesn’t understand her rights.
Lynae tells Sparling that she owns a shop at NE 112th Avenue and NE Sandy Boulevard, and that a girlfriend arranged to have a friend – whom she didn’t know – give her a ride, to “somewhere“.
Sparling responds, “I can’t discuss this with you; you won’t acknowledge your rights; we have nothing further to talk about. You’re going to jail.” Even while sitting in the back of a patrol car, Lynae is very animated. She talks, shouts, hoots, and screams, as she bobs back and forth in the seat.
As Lynae’s “new friend” stammers out stories that don’t make sense, Officer Kula prepares him for a ride to jail.
The suspected john, now standing with Kula, is told he’s about to ride to jail with his new “friend” – who continues to shriek and curse at, and to, all who face her direction.
His fate becoming clearer, the man now becomes more candid with Kula, and admits he saw her flagging him down, and that the woman offered sexual services when she got in his car.
As Kula takes his handcuffs off, he warns the man, “We have a good memory for faces, and we’re keeping your name in our notes. If we ever see you here, looking for sex, you’re going to jail and your car will be impounded.”
The man looks pale and shaken as he slowly walks back to his car.
“He has no criminal record,” Kula tells us. “We were able to observe the woman’s behavior, specifically, soliciting him. It is very difficult for prosecutors to make a case against a suspected customer.”
Praise from neighbors
A neighbor leans out the window of his home and thanks the officers, saying, “Hey, we really appreciate it. It’s gotten really bad around here.”
Sparling comments, “It isn’t unusual for neighbors to come out and thank us. They say they’re tired of prostitutes working on their street and the undesirable traffic it brings. They’re tired of cleaning up the condoms and needles.”
Kula adds, “Although it may not seem like we’re having an effect; but I think we are helping improve the livability of the community.”
It looks as if PFZ and DFZ ordinances are certain to expire without hope of a reprieve. What do politicians, neighbors and cops have to say about the situation?
Read STREET SEX: Part 3 – Life after Prostitution-free Zones right here, next week.
© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service