L.A. officials call for crackdown on prostitution in Valley

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and City Atty. Mike Feuer called Monday for a crackdown on prostitution in two parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Under a plan Martinez will submit to her council colleagues Friday, the city would add two police patrols, step up enforcement of the people who commit and arrange the crimes, and set up a program to divert prostitutes as young as 12 from a life on the streets.

The added patrols, at a cost of up to $300,000, will target portions of Lankershim and Sepulveda boulevards, Martinez said. The frequency of patrols is still being worked out, said Linda Serrato-Ybarra, a Martinez spokeswoman.

City prosecutors will work with police to impound the cars of clients. In the case of first-time offenders, an eight-hour "john school" would be offered in return for a guilty plea. Sex for money is not a victimless crime, Martinez said, because it poses serious quality-of-life problems for nearby residents.

"Families shouldn't have to see young girls be solicited on their way to the grocery store, or have to step on condoms while they're strapping their children into their car seats,'' Martinez said at a news conference in front of the Rendezvous Motel on Sepulveda Boulevard.

Street walking has long been a problem in the two Valley corridors, but community groups say it's become more organized, with girls and some boys being moved from city to city and even across state lines. Don Schultz, who has lived two blocks from Sepulveda Boulevard for nearly 40 years, said he's seen a big change.

"I'm a walker, and when I go on my morning walks, I'll see four or five girls just parading around the corner," he said. "It's not uncommon for me to see traffic tie-ups with the johns trying to pick up the prostitutes."

The new proposal doesn't call for any changes in law. Rather, Feuer said, the city will take a "hard-line approach" in enforcing existing laws against clients and especially pimps who broker sex acts for pay.

From there, however, the city will take a different approach toward prostitutes and their customers.

Currently, if police arrest an offender they have the option of impounding a car up to 30 days, he said. That tactic could be employed more frequently, Feuer said.

At the same time, those caught paying for sex will be offered john school, similar to the traffic school familiar to motorists who receive citations. During a daylong session, offenders learn about sexually transmitted diseases and listen as former prostitutes tell about drug abuse, beatings by pimps and sexual assaults.

A pilot john school in South Los Angeles has been effective in reducing repeat offenses, Feuer said. Since 2008, 1,115 people have attended john school, and of those, only four have been re-arrested, according to numbers provided by the city attorney's office.

Prostitutes would be offered a program of counseling, education and housing through the Van Nuys-based Mary Magdalene Project if they agree not to re-offend.

Small fines and a few days in jail have not proven effective, and therefore it's time to try something new, Feuer said.

"Those are not the tools to eliminate a problem that has plagued the San Fernando Valley for years," he said.


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