Potter pledges prostitution prosecution

A year after Portland City Council stripped cops of their street prostitution-fighting ordinance; street sex has exploded along 82nd Avenue. See how the City now plans to combat this unsavory problem and (below) how neighborhood organizations are responding …

Standing in the background, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs, Roseway Neighborhood board member Tyler Whitmeyer, Madison South neighborhood’s Geneva McArtor, Portland Police Bureau Chief Rosie Sizer, Portland Police Bureau SE Precinct Lt. Vince Elmore and Madison South neighborhood chair Ruth Hander listen as Portland Mayor Tom Potter reads a statement detailing plans to curtail street-level prostitution.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After no less than three different citizen grass-roots organizations – joined by members of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association – circulated petitions, scheduled town hall forums, and planned a protest march, Portland Mayor Tom Potter came to the embattled avenue to announce plans to curb the burgeoning street sex industry that’s been plaguing the area.

Standing with area neighborhood chairs and officials from the Portland Police Bureau, Potter began an open-air press conference at on Thursday, September 11, at 11:00 a.m. sharp, outside the Montavilla Community Center on NE 82nd Avenue of Roses at NE Glisan Street.

Note: What follows is our capture and transcription of Mayor Tom Potter’s speech as it was given. To see the official, written version of his speech, CLICK HERE – this link calls up a PDF document located the City’s official web site.

Mayor Tom Potter says the new plan is in response to a 300% increase in vice calls from 2006 to 2007.

Says street prostitution is “intolerable”
After greeting all present, Mayor Tom Potter introduced police brass and neighborhood organizers, and then read prepared remarks.

“We’re here today to join with the neighbors, and talk about how we’re going to take back the streets from the prostitutes, the pimps, and the johns [prostitution customers],” Potter began.

“They’ve made 82nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard an intolerable environment for our children, our businesses, and our community. We’ve seen more than a 300% increase in vice calls from 2006 to 2007 in East and Southeast precinct. More importantly, we’ve witnessed how parents must clean up the playgrounds and ball fields that have been used by prostitutes before they can let their children play.

“This isn’t only unsafe; it’s intolerable to me – and to the people who live in the neighborhoods – and to everyone who lives in Portland. I don’t want anyone to think for a moment that these are victimless crimes. Or that the police resources could be better used elsewhere. Many of these women are abused, raped, robbed by both pimps and johns.  Pimps are often drug dealers and gang members. Customers not only expose themselves to the threat of disease, but expose their families [to this threat] as well.”

Potter tells how recent law enforcement efforts have curbed prostitution activities along 82nd Ave. of Roses.

Prostitution brings crime to neighborhoods

Potter continued, “Where prostitution flourishes, drugs, theft, burglary and assaults soon follow. Just last month, a prostitute, who was beaten up by a pimp, stabbed him to death.  A week later, another pimp was shot to death.

“Today, I want our community to know that we are changing what is happening on the streets. Since mid-August, [Portland Police Bureau] Chief [Rosie] Sizer has directed the Portland Police Bureau to increase their crackdown on both prostitutes and johns. During six anti-prostitution missions over 10 days, officers arrested 36 prostitutes — including one minor. They also arrested 27 johns and one pimp.”

Patrolling against prostitution
In addition to the large-scale anti-prostitution missions, Potter added, “Now, four officers in unmarked cars are patrolling [areas on either side of 82nd Avenue] seven days a week. They’re dedicated to vice calls only, and nothing else. Additionally, officers from three precincts will run a least four anti-prostitution missions each month.

“[Portland Police Bureau East Precinct] Commander [Michael] Crebs, who’s been spearheading this task force, says community members tell him that these missions and patrols are making a noticeable difference along the avenue. Perhaps more notably, we’re trying to fundamentally change how our criminal justice system here in Portland deals with the problem.”

Attempting to stall the Justice System’s ‘revolving door’
“Currently, most prostitutes who are arrested are back on the streets working only hours after they arrested. Working with the District Attorney’s office, we’re asking judges to [try] repeat offenders in Circuit Court – rather than the current practice of doing so in Community Court – for prostitution-related crimes. If convicted [in Circuit Court], they’ll be placed on probation, which will allow judges to exclude them from certain areas, or require them to enter treatment.

“We’re working toward a system where officers will have the ability to arrest prostitutes who enter an area, in violation of their probation and put them in jail.”

Portland’s Mayor describes how the criminal justice system will deal with those convicted of engaging in prostitution activities – including the possibility of treatment.

$1/2 Million dedicated to treatment
“At the same time, the Portland City Council will consider allocating a total of $500,000 to develop treatment options for prostitutes. While there’s a popular notion that most prostitutes are dealing with drug abuse issues, research by Commander Crebs in the past few weeks shows that [underlying causes] are much more wide ranging; drugs play a smaller part than anticipated.

“Therefore we must develop treatment programs that address sex abuse counseling, housing, child care needs, and job training, as well as drug counseling. This is not coddling offenders; rather, it’s breaking the cycle of dependence between a prostitute and her pimp. We’re getting to the root cause of the problem, by giving them new skills to create a new life away from the streets. Part of this money will be used to create a Service Coordination Team, similar to what is been so successfully used in Old Town [downtown]. This team of officers will identify the worst offenders, and offer them the choice of help or jail time.”

Asks for continuing community support
Potter concluded by thanking citizens and asking for their continued support.

“The Montavilla Foot Patrol is out several nights a week, actively targeting prostitution areas, and contacting businesses along the route. Local businesses are working with police to share information on criminal activity, and signing Trespass Agreements that allow the police to stop suspicious activity after hours. Citizens are creating Court Watches to monitor how prostitution cases are proceeding in court, and reporting back to their neighborhoods.

“I believe these efforts are an important beginning, helping these communities regain control of their streets, and addressing these problems at their root causes.”

Portland Police Bureau Chief Rosie Sizer tells how she’s fought vice crimes, such as prostitution, during her career.

Police chief dedicated to fighting vice
Portland Police Bureau Chief Rosie Sizer then stepped up to the podium and addressed the gathering, which consisted mostly of reporters and TV news crews.

“I would first like to extend my deep commitment to the residents and businesses along 82nd Avenue,” Sizer began. “I have spent major portions of my career fighting vice activities, and fighting the notion that prostitution is a victimless crime. In addition to the toll it takes on the women involved, street prostitution victimizes the community. It erodes a sense of safety, and stigmatizes neighborhoods. It is a crime.”

Sizer thanked the involved police precincts, singling out East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs and Officer Heath Kula for developing the current plan to combat prostitution. She gave kudos to Commissioner Randy Leonard for finding funding for treatment.

Finally, Sizer expressed appreciation for the District Attorney’s office, saying, “I thank D.A. Mike Shrunk and Assistant Director Carl Goodman [of the Department of Community Justice for Multnomah County] for their willingness to partner with us, and for their flexibility in addressing how prostitution is handled by the criminal justice system.”

Questions and answers … and a comment
Q Won’t there be a relatively long “lag time” between a prostitute’s or john’s arrest, their court dates and eventually conviction – only at which time they’ll be sanctioned?

A Potter responded, “We’re trying to reduce that time. The actual model that’s used on the west side is this: [Talk with an alleged offender] while they’re in jail, before they’re arraigned, and before the trial. Give them some choices in their lives in terms of treatment versus incarceration.

“There are problems in the criminal justice system. Part of the problem is that the criminal justice system is greatly under-funded. We don’t have enough judges or district attorneys. We don’t have enough jail space to hold the people who need to be [held in jail] until they are given some choices about their lives. There are no guarantees all of this.”

Q You’ve said as part of probation, judges will exclude those convicted from certain areas. Can you differentiate between this new program and Prostitution-free Zones (PFZ)?

A The difference is,” Potter replied, “that it is not a police officer excluding a person from a geographic area.  It is the order of a judge that excludes them.  That is quite different, because when the judge gives an order, if there is a violation, and if they’re caught in a prostitution area, but they’ll end up back in jail.  To me, this is really the way that it should be done.  Everything we did before was trying to adjust to a criminal justice system that was not functioning properly. I think with this model in mind, it’ll perform much better than it has in the past.”

Q We’ve heard that prostitution-related calls have tripled within the last year, since the PFZ was discontinued. Wasn’t it a mistake to discontinue them?

A “No. It wasn’t a mistake,” asserted Potter. “We find that [PFZ] exclusions tend to displace the problem instead of solving the problem. In fact, right now we’re seeing some of the spillover effect out here from the enforcement efforts in the Old Town area. Instead of displacing the problem, we want to fix the problem.”

Area resident, Liz Sullivan, tells the group why she has concerns about the plan announced by Mayor Potter.

Mt. Tabor neighbor takes Potter to task
Liz Sullivan stepped to the podium and told the gathering why she, a Mt. Tabor resident, got involved with the Montavilla in Action petition drive to reinstate the PFZ ordinance.

“I’m helping because we don’t understand what’s happening to our neighborhood,” Sullivan said. “Overnight, organized crime moved in. We saw so many groups of prostitutes – during all hours, and on all days – it scared me. I know if you don’t stem the problem and address it, it’s sure to grow deep roots here.

“Mayor Potter, with all due respect, it was a huge mistake to let the Prostitution-free Zone end,” Sullivan went on. She argued that the rationale to allow the PFZ ordinance to “sunset” was based on research done on Drug-free Zones downtown, not prostitution, and not on the eastside. Further, she asserted that without the PFZ in place, prostitutes, pimps, and organized crime have moved into town from Seattle.

“Our neighbor to the north, Seattle,” asserted Sullivan, “has a similar zone. They simply provide more enforcement. They have consistent, mandatory sentencing. They have stronger enforcement on the johns. I don’t think this proposed solution even attacks the johns.”

Commander Crebs challenged her inference, saying “This program does go after the johns; they’re all treated equally. [Convicted] johns will also be placed on probation.”

Sullivan urges Potter and the Portland City Council to reconsider reinstating Prostitution-free Zones at the press conference.

Looks for stronger medicine
“On probation!” shot back Sullivan. “I think it needs to be stronger than probation.”

Sullivan asserted that the city promised “real solutions” when the PFZ ordinance was allowed to sunset on Sept. 30 2007. Looking to the future, she asked, “What will it be like when I-205 MAX opens, bringing in more crime that is associated with light rail? … I don’t understand why the Prostitution-free Zones can’t be reinstated.”

Potter replies he feels Prostitution-free Zones were not effective; the Criminal Justice System will reduce the causes of the problem.

Trying to make the system work
Potter retorted, “We’re not trying a new model. We’re trying to make the criminal justice system work efficiently.

“We’re saying to the judges: Please make the system work. Please put [those convicted of prostitution-related crimes] on probation, and hold them accountable. We will go out and make sure that this is the case. This is how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.

“I was the Police Chief when we created the drug and prostitution-free zones. As Mayor, I feel that they were not as effective as they should have been.”

Before the press conference, Portland police Bureau Southeast Precinct Lt. Vince Elmore and Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs review the program on which they’re working with one another.

Precincts work together on prostitution-fighting plan
Portland police Bureau Southeast Precinct Lt. Vince Elmore will be handling the “operational side” of the new program, he explained to us. “What I’m doing is making sure that the patrol officers assigned to deal with 82nd Avenue livability issues, such as prostitution, are patrolling the neighborhoods on either side of the Avenue.

“The specialized patrols will consist of officers from both SE and East Precinct,” Elmore explained. “We’ll also collaborate with the Bureau’s Traffic Division, Drug and Vice, and other divisions to address this problem.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs said he was working as a liaison with city and county governmental agencies. “By working together and joining our resources, we’re going to take a bite out of prostitution.”

Crebs said he is hopeful that this program will get positive results. “Members of the community have spoken loudly and clearly: ‘This is really bad.’ I think we have the momentum to get the politicians, the District Attorney – all of the agencies involved, including the probation officers – to pour resources into this area’s issue.”

Organizers comment

No one with whom we spoke after the press conference speculated that Potter chose to release his plan on this date to get a jump on a widely-publicized “Town Hall Summit” scheduled for Monday, September 15 at Vestal Elementary School.

Ruth Hander, Chair of Madison South Neighborhood Association, said, “Hopefully, it will work. I think we helped push them into action. They’ve been talking about lots of plans. It’s good that things are starting to moving along.”

“Save NE 82nd Avenue Coalition” chair Dawn Rasmussen pitches their group’s Town Hall Summit on Sept. 15 at Vestal Elementary School at the press conference.

Pitches Town Hall Summit on September 15
A driving force behind the “Save NE 82nd Avenue Coalition”, Dawn Rasmussen, told us after the conference, “I think [Mayor Potter’s announcement] brings attention to what is going on 82nd Avenue. It is good to see leadership address the problems here.”

Both at the press conference, and later during our conversation, Rasmussen reminded us of the upcoming Town Hall Summit her group is hosting on Monday, September 15.

“Our goal with this Town Hall Summit is to bring together the community to discuss the causes of prostitution and also discuss solutions. This is a community-based approach. It’ll be positive, and focusing on the human side of the victimization [against prostitutes]. And, it’s also empowering citizens to figure out what we can do as citizens to help assist all the city agencies and the Police Bureau in combating this issue.”

The venue for the Town Hall Summit, the auditorium at Vestal Elementary School, seats 400, and the organizers say they hope most of them will be filled with concerned neighbors. It runs from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at 161 NE 82nd Avenue (just south of E. Burnside).

Because it was held on a weekday morning, few people – other than Portland’s fine press corps – were on hand at the press conference.

‘Montavilla in Action’ responds
Liz Sullivan of “Montavilla in Action” told us she, and the group to which she belongs, chose not to stand with the Mayor, because doing so would appear to give tacit approval the plan being rolled out at the press conference.

She and her group parsed a document that outlines the city’s prostitution-fighting program entitled, “Taking Back Portland’s Neighborhoods: Fighting Prostitution On 82nd Ave. & Sandy Blvd.”. It was handed out by Potter’s staff at the press conference. (CLICK HERE to see this PDF document at the City’s web site. This is different than Mayor Potter’s speech text.)

To read the response, in the form of an “open letter” Montavilla in Action prepared to the city’s document, CLICK HERE. You will go to the text of their document on a page here at East Portland News.

Group plans September 20 march on 82nd Ave.
Sullivan added, “We plan to have our “March on 82nd Avenue to Reclaim our Neighborhood” on Saturday September 20, starting at Portland Community College Southeast Center. Please come out and join us.

For more information on their march, visit their web site by CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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