STREET SEX Part 1: How ‘The Life’ affects neighborhood livability

Think street prostitution is a “victimless crime”? Ask what neighbors think, after they come back from their daily “condom and needle patrols” …

Street-level prostitution is still active in outer East Portland. After officers watch Loretta violating her exclusion order, attempting to flag down potential sex customers along NE 82nd Avenue of Roses, she is arrested.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Outer East Portland neighbors all along 82nd Avenue of Roses, and outer NE Sandy Blvd.,  say they are concerned that, come November 1, their streets will again teem with street-level prostitution. Women in “The Life” – the term prostitutes use when referring to their trade – are about about to get a “gift” from the City Fathers.

On October 30, City of Portland ordinances called Prostitution-free Zones (PFZ) and Drug-free Zones (DFZ) will expire. Hearings to continue or change these ordinances were dropped from the Portland City Council’s September 12 agenda without mention or comment.

“Exclusion zones” defined
To learn more about the PFZ and DFZ ordinances, we speak with Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs. He’s in charge of the cops that patrol Portland’s most prostitution-affected streets.

“It takes a lot of resources to catch people selling drugs or engaging in prostitution,” Crebs begins.

“Parts of 82nd Avenue of Roses and NE Sandy Blvd. are designated as Prostitution-free Zones and Drug-free Zones. When officers see persons engaged in prostitution activities, they arrest them,” explains Crebs.

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs explains the “exclusion” ordinances.

“When we arrest them, we also give them an ‘exclusion’ that prohibits them from coming back to the zone for 90 days. These individuals can return to the area to deal with activities of life, like shopping, medical needs, or other legitimate activities.”

If cops catch “excluded” individuals in a PFZ or DFZ within 90 days, and they clearly are not engaged in a legitimate activity, the commander says, officers can arrest them for trespassing.

“It is proven that you have the ability [to exclude an individual], it diminishes the ability for these things to occur. It makes the area no longer conducive for their activity. Sometimes they stop it altogether, or do it far away.”

Neighbors speak out
Debbie Shelley is a Parkrose neighborhood resident who lives near NE 99th Avenue and Wygant Street.

“I used to think these gals getting picked up by cars were just getting a ride from a friend. But then, we watch them they drive into the neighborhood and stop on a side street,” Shelley tells us a recent neighborhood meeting.

“Used condoms, needles – we’ve found it all around our area, especially in the cemetery. It terrifies me to see this on the ground. There are kids in our neighborhood. What if they pick up a needle?”

Drug dealers can be excluded under the DFZ ordinance, also. “We’re getting a lot of drug traffic. I see cars coming down the street. They flash their headlights, and people come up to the car and they leave,” Shelley adds.

Her message to City Hall: “Please, keep the Prostitution-free Zones and Drug-free Zones!”

Portland Police Bureau Officer Mike Leisure and Mary Walker at the Parkrose NA meeting talk about prostitution.

Says homeowners also have rights
Mary Walker, board member Parkrose Neighborhood Association, adds, “We don’t want anyone’s rights to be violated – whether it is the prostitute, or the homeowners. The goal isn’t to throw prostitutes in jail. The goal is to find a solution. We’ve got to resolve to find a way to help prostitutes find a better way of life.”

Walker notes that nearly half of the cars picking up prostitutes in Parkrose bear Washington state license plates. “It would be great if we could find a way to work with Vancouver, Washington, police.”

If the PFZ is allowed to expire, Walker says, she’s concerned – because, “I think that the activity will increase. It won’t be in the shadows; we’ll be seeing it right in the heart of Parkrose.”

Lives in the “drop-off zone”
Madison South is the neighborhood along NE 82nd Avenue of Roses, near Madison High School. Their neighborhood association chair, Ruth Hander, tells us what she sees every day.

“I am in the ‘drop off’ zone,” Hander says. “Guys pick up the gals on 82nd Avenue, and drive into the neighborhood [for sex]. When they’re done, they drop the gal off, and they take off for 82nd Avenue, and away they go again.”

The problem with prostitution in the Madison South area, explains Hander, “is not only are we dealing with the prostitutes, but also with the drugs they bring with them. We appreciate all the drug and prostitution missions the police conduct, but there is only so much they can do.”

More than 100 Madison South residents have signed a letter to the Portland City Council requesting that PFZ and DFZ ordinances be kept on the books, Hander adds.

Notes declining property values
When an area is known for hosting prostitution and drug dealing – even if unwillingly – neighbors say the illegal activity imports crime into their communities.

Valerie Curry, president of Argay Neighborhood Association, tells us, “I’m not speaking for the association; I’m speaking as a very concerned neighbor.”

Curry calls street sex and drug dealing a “huge concern” because of the increased level of activity she, and neighbors, observe in their area.

“In addition to the level of prostitution and drug activity we’re seeing,” Curry continues, “some folks are reporting prostitutes screaming, as their pimps beat them up.”

While unsavory individuals allegedly are moving into Argay apartment complexes, residents are moving out.

“We’re losing some of our good, stable, long-term neighbors because of this activity. They say, ‘We don’t want our children seeing prostitution and drug dealing as a normal way of life’. We have drivers, stoned out of their minds, coming to have sex with prostitutes. We see drug deals every night at NE 131st and NE Sandy Blvd.”

Not only does it affect the quality of life in Argay, Curry adds, “This criminal activity is reducing the value of our homes. It is devastating to our community. For the mayor to just let it [the ordinances] drop, and expire, is unacceptable.”

Next week
Is “street sex” truly as rampant as neighbors claim? Is this problem being blown out of proportion?

See what we learn when we ride along with police officers in Street Sex: Part 2Prostitution flourishes in outer East Portland.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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