Curbing outer East Portland prostitution hinges on case prosecution and judges’ decisions

Street-sex Update: Is the city’s ‘permanent solution’ for street-level prostitution going to work? See why it looks like it’ll take more than cops on patrol to solve the problem. And, Discover the role of DAs, judges, and a new treatment program play …

After being cornered in the restroom of a retail store a couple of weeks ago, this woman, accused of being involved in prostitution, tries to talk her way to freedom – but the officer taking her into custody isn’t buying her story. While prostitution is on the decline – it’s far from gone on the Avenue.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) task force dedicated to reducing street-level prostitution has indeed eliminated the blatant, flamboyant street-sex vendors along 82nd Avenue of Roses and NE Sandy Boulevard, as last week’s story showed – it’s certainly far from being eliminated from outer East Portland.

Before reading our update on actions being taken to curb street-level prostitution – at the source – you may want to read our previous stories regarding:

  • Summertime anti-prostitution missions, CLICK HERE.
  • The September 15 anti-prostitution Summit, CLICK HERE.
  • The September 30 march on 82nd Ave., CLICK HERE
  • The Second anti-prostitution “Take Back 82nd” Summit on October 7, CLICK HERE.

At this September press conference, Portland Mayor Tom Potter said the Prostitution-free Zone ordinance would not be reinstated; instead, it would be replaced with a new, comprehensive plan that included treatment for re-offending prostitutes.

‘Zones’ eliminated in 2007
For several years, the law enforcement and judicial system has “winked” at prostitution, as if it were considered a low level crime.

As the quality of life problems that prostitution brought started spilling into neighborhoods, the City of Portland responded with “Drug- and Prostitution-free Zone” ordinances, in which individuals alleged to be involved in street-sex transactions could be “excluded” – that is, prevented, under threat of going to jail for violation, from hanging out along 82nd Avenue or NE Sandy Boulevard – without a good reason.

In late 2007, the Portland City Council chose to allow the ordinances to expire – saying the council believed them to be racially discriminatory. However, that conclusion was based ONLY on information gathered about the Drug-free Zone ordinance, and ONLY in downtown’s Old Town. For about a year, cops were without a valuable tool they used to remove frequent suspected prostitutes from outer East Portland.

Then, on September 11, Mayor Tom Potter held a press conference at the Montavilla Community Center during which he vowed to curb street prostitution – a problem that had grown into being “intolerable”. CLICK HERE to read this EastPDXNews article.

Justin Cutler, Montavilla Neighborhood Association Vice Chair, welcomed neighbors to the second “Take Back 82nd Avenue” Town Hall meeting.

Neighborhood chair commends efforts
A few weeks ago, we checked in with Justin Cutler, chair of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, and the person who facilitated the October 7 “Take Back 82nd Summit” to see if all of the publicity surrounding the issue had helped their cause.

“Overall, I feel as citizens we’ve made a difference. We have been working with Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman to form an oversight committee, and I’ve been to Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) meetings,” Cutler told us.

“It is our job a citizens to encourage public officials to make things happen,” Cutler continued. “We need to take ownership for our part – calling police when we see activity, being involved in the neighborhood association, and participating in foot patrols.”

Vigilant police efforts reduce prostitution
From mid-August through the first of December, officers had arrested 226 people suspected of engaging in prostitution activities. But, as we found on a recent ride-along with an anti-prostitution mission, the “johns” (customers) have kept cruising the streets looking for prostitutes – who themselves are willing to face another arrest – to service them.

As we drove back to the police station, our contact for the mission, East Precinct’s Sgt. David Golliday, explained, “What we want to do is get the prostitutes on probation, so we can use that to get them involved in social services. Soon, we should have sufficient bed space to get them off the street and help them learn life skills – so they can stay off the street and learn a normal lifestyle, or get back to one.”

Golliday reminded us that, as evidenced during our ride-along, the bureau is still providing aggressive enforcement. “And, with the District Attorney’s Office working diligently on these cases, and the judges accepting the DA’s request of putting these women on probation status – plus the social services aspect – it should really help reduce prostitution.”

J. R. Ujifusa, Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney and Asst. DA Jenna Plank speak plainly about the new way the City and County plan to combat street-level prostitution.

DAs explain how ‘new system’ works
From what we’ve gathered from our investigation, a person suspected of being involved in the act of prostitution (either the prostitute, or the john) is arrested. The suspected individual is tried in court, and perhaps is convicted. If the same individual is arrested, tried, and convicted a second time, they then may be sanctioned or treated.

“Prostitution cases can be problematic,” Multnomah County Asst. DA Jenna Plank told a group of citizens wanting to learn how Portland and the County propose to deal with prostitution. “We take all prosecutable cases sent from [anti-prostitution] missions run by the police department.”

“So, this ‘new process’ relies on judges to take these cases seriously?” we ask.

“The best practices are [for the police] to run a solid mission, using whatever laws or ordinances that are in effect,” Plank replied.  “This helps us build our best cases. Another thing that will help us put more pressure on the judges to help – both through public comment, and Judicial Watch” – so they know that the community is suffering because of this issue.”

Plank continued that, if judges perceive prostitution as a true public issue, they will respond appropriately. “I will be honest and say it might be rocky at first,” Plank continued, “because it is new and different. Yet, it’s very similar to the Prostitution-Free Zone ordinances. It’s not like we’re starting from ground zero. But, realistically, not all judges will do what we ask.”

Spinning a judicial ‘revolving-door’?
We asked, “Because this new plan hinges upon successful prosecution – and the DA’s office has a finite budget – can your office keep this from becoming a judicial ‘revolving-door’ when your office runs out of money, or when judges turn offenders over to Community Court?”

Plank responded, “Yes, we think we can do it. Right now, if we are presented a case that is provable – or if we think we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt – we will prosecute it. The only added burden for us, under this plan, is when it comes down to the probation/violation phase.”

If found guilty, said Plank, the DA’s office asks judge put the individual on probation with “geographic restriction”. “If the defendant goes into that [geographic] area, they will get arrested for violating their probation.”

But Plank added that they “can’t keep charged individuals in custody”. Many of the accused don’t make their court dates. “Lots of warrants go out. If you look at the back of their worksheet you’ll see that the time from their arrest till the time of conviction is about six months. So, for these six months, [the suspects] will be out, essentially freely doing what they want to do. They will not have geographical restrictions on them until their case is settled.”

Assistant DA Plank is showing a chart that illustrates how prostitution cases will flow through the justice system under the current arrangement.

Treatment can be two years away
To make sure we understand the situation, we asked, “So, an individual must be caught-in-the-act with prosecutable evidence, arrested, and be successfully prosecuted and convicted twice before they’re legible for geographic restriction sanctions – or a treatment program? This could take a couple of years, right?”

“That is correct,” Plank stated.

“The first time a person is arrested on a prostitution charge,” continued Plank, “the case may go to Community Court.” She said, from memory, that about 30% of defendants opt for Community Court. “This could make every first-time offender say they want to go to Community Court [and thus, this arrest would not count as a first conviction]. We don’t know; and, we won’t know until we get started.”

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney J. R. Ujifusa chimed in, “Keep in mind that we had a similar amount of cases under the Prostitution-free Zone ordinance. The system is set up a handle higher amount of cases.”

Beth Glisczinski, Director of Adult and Youth Addiction Services at LifeWorks NW, and Kathleen Treb, Acting Director for Community Justice, Multnomah County of Community Justice, look over details of a in-patient prostitution treatment program, as its coordinator, East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs looks on.

Treatment program in development
At an early December meeting of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council at East Precinct, Beth Glisczinski, the Director of Adult and Youth Addiction Services at LifeWorks NW, and Kathleen Treb, Acting Director for Community Justice, Multnomah County of Community Justice, attended with other committee members.

Talking about the treatment program for prostitutes, Glisczinski told us, “This is intended to be an intervention program for women who got in trouble with the law because of their prostitution-related activities.”

LifeWorks NW proposed a “truly integrated approach to meeting the needs of these women, addressing their mental health and addiction needs, and helping them rebuild a life – a life of recovery and stability and security,” Glisczinski said.

She added that her organization ran a similar program between 1997 and 2007. “It fell victim to budget cuts; it’s been inactive for about a year and a half.”

Their new program offers an “addiction component” and a “recovery mentor” process that were not in the original treatment program.

“A recovery mentor,” Glisczinski explained, “is someone who is been there, done that – and someone who is in recovery from chemical dependency or some other issue. We also require that they be in recovery from their involvement with the criminal justice system and are now turning their life around – and will provide their experience, insights and support the people are trying to do the same thing.”

We’ll bring you more details about this treatment program as they become available.

Members gather for a meeting of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council at East Precinct the first week in December.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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