Vice Crackdown : Undercover Police Prowling Harbor Boulevard Find More Sophisticated, Out-of-Town Prostitutes at Work

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Ana police vice squad’s “No Fun Detail” slithered through early evening traffic on 17th Street in five Rent-a-Dents, following the tail lights of a white Camaro.

The driver was a young undercover policeman. His passenger was a suspected prostitute he had picked up in front of a department store.

Police Cpl. Don Robertson, driving point in the five-car caravan, reached for a hand radio. “I got an eye on ‘em,” Robertson said. “They’re in the number two lane, westbound. They’re sitting pretty close together.”

The radio crackled a response from one of the other officers: “ ‘N’ they called it puppy looooove!!!”


The brake lights on the Camaro fluttered. A signal.

“He got the solicitation,” Robertson said into the radio. “Let’s get ‘em.”

The caravan closed in on the Camaro. Guillermo (not his real name--undercover officers in this account were given pseudonyms to protect their identities) made a U-turn off 17th Street. He zipped in and out of alleys, being just elusive enough to convince his passenger he was a frightened customer and not an undercover officer.

After a brief chase the Camaro was cornered in a residential cul-de-sac. Robertson flashed his badge, pointed at Guillermo and shouted to another vice detective. “Gino! Get this jerk’s ID!”


Robertson walked to the other side of the car and smiled at the tiny woman in the jacket and baggy blue jeans who somberly stepped onto the curb. “Hello Cynthia,” he said.

Handcuffed in the back seat of Robertson’s car, 19-year-old Cynthia said she worked as a prostitute to support a $100-a-day heroin habit.

A seven-mile stretch of Harbor Boulevard from the bright lights of Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center south to the beer joints and topless bars in Santa Ana has for years been the center of prostitution in Orange County.

The Magic Kingdom, the convention center, Anaheim Stadium and Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park keep the boulevard packed with traffic, luring prostitutes with the promise of big, quick money. Police have long regarded Harbor as Orange County’s version of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, where flashy women solicit their business under neon lights.

Supporting Heroin Habits

Until recently, the street-prostitution scene in Orange County has been a relatively small-time operation. Virtually all the prostitutes along the strip were local Anglos and Latinas, working the streets to support their heroin habits. They dressed in jeans, sweaters and blouses, strolling slowly, close to the curb, keeping a steady, cautious watch on the cars.

But prostitution along Harbor Boulevard is undergoing a dramatic change.

Beginning in March, vice officers began to notice an increase in the number of prostitutes working the boulevard. Santa Ana police arrested 250 prostitutes on Harbor Boulevard last year. In the first three months of this year, they’ve arrested more than 125. Garden Grove and Anaheim police report similar increases.


In addition, vice officers say a different type of streetwalker has has begun to appear. They say they are finding an increase in “circuit” prostitutes, a reference to seasoned professionals who work major metropolitan areas across the country, moving on when local police crack down.

“Before (March) there were only a handful working the boulevard and 1st Street,” said Santa Ana Vice Detective Jim Flood. “Then all of a sudden we had a big influx.”

The circuit prostitutes pose a problem for vice officers because they are more experienced in distinguishing undercover officers from customers. Also, because they are new to the streets of Orange County and assume fictitious names, police from the three jurisdictions along Harbor have found it difficult to track down prior arrest records that could lead to longer jail sentences.

The circuit prostitutes “are smarter than the local girls,” Flood said. “They’re more professional and businesslike. They’re also more stylish.”

Circuit hookers are easy to pick out. Unlike the local prostitutes, they wear high heels, brightly colored dresses, tight miniskirts and jump suits. Virtually all of them are black, and in a county where blacks make up only 1.3% of the total population, they aren’t hard to spot.

Circuit Prostitutes

When the circuit prostitutes arrived in March, residents near Harbor already concerned with the prostitutes roaming their neighborhoods began taking their anger to the streets. Near Quatro Street in Garden Grove, they patrolled the neighborhood with Dobermans and cellular phones, trading insults with the hookers. Residents living near Washington Street and Harbor Boulevard stood vigil at night, holding protest signs demanding that the prostitutes leave town.

Don Pyle, a drapery salesman who lives on Quatro Street, said he had been trying to sell his home, but after press reports appeared on the area’s prostitution problem, the buyer backed out.


“The house had just come into escrow when the buyer backed out, because of the newspaper article and all the publicity,” Pyle said. “My health? I haven’t been paying attention to my business. I haven’t been paying attention to my wife and family. I can’t sleep right. I don’t eat right . . . .”

Police crackdowns on prostitution since March diminished the number of hookers working the boulevard. But many of the circuit prostitutes remain. Local prostitutes like Cynthia complain that the circuit hookers, who travel in groups of four to six with pimps, have run them off the boulevard, forcing them to work other streets where the customers are not as plentiful.

When Anaheim and Garden Grove police teamed up and arrested 42 prostitutes from March 8 to March 14, they discovered about 70% of them were circuit hookers, said Anaheim Police Vice Sgt. Jim Brantley. A number of them said they came from San Diego, where a recent crackdown drove many hookers out of town.

Six-Week Crackdown

“They started coming around the first and middle of March,” Brantley said. “Why? I don’t know. Whenever there’s a crackdown in Hollywood, L.A. or San Diego, it seems like we get ‘em.

“I know what’s been going on in San Diego,” Brantley quipped. “I called them the other day and told them to cut it out.”

San Diego Police Capt. Tom Hall said vice officers there began a six-week crackdown on street prostitution last May. Some of those women only recently completed jail sentences, he said.

Vice officers went back on the streets in late February and early March, Hall said, when prostitution “flared up all over again” on El Cajon Boulevard in east San Deigo. “El Cajon is like Harbor Boulevard,” Hall said. “It’s a wide, brightly lit and well-traveled street, which makes it ripe for prostitution.”

But Hall said the number of circuit prostitutes who normally “follow the weather” and return to San Diego in the spring appeared to drop. Some of those may be working Harbor Boulevard, he said.

“You’d be surprised how word gets out when a city starts cracking down,” Hall said. “Los Angeles did it last year, for the Olympics, and San Jose did it the year before that. You have to constantly keep working it (prostitution) or it’ll flare up again.”

“One of these days I’d like to tag one of these girls, like they do wild animals, and see where she ends up,” Brantley said.

One of the best known San Diego prostitutes now working Harbor Boulevard, police said, is 24-year-old Laura Lee, who also goes by three other names, Sim Kim, Kim Sado and Kim Lee Jackson.

Lee, using the name Kim Sado, was arrested for prostitution earlier this year and sentenced to 45 days in jail, said San Diego Vice Detective Jack Graham. She was picked up for violating her probation several weeks ago but left town before the case was prosecuted.

“We haven’t seen her since,” Graham said.

Questioned 3 Times

Garden Grove police stopped and questioned Lee three times between April 24 and 26, said Lt. Dave Abecht. Abecht said that on all three occasions police did not have enough evidence to make an arrest and instead filled out FID (field identification) cards, a method of obtaining information on suspected prostitutes.

Lee was arrested for solicitation of prostitution on Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim April 26, Brantley said. This time she told officers her name was Kim Lee Jackson. Two other women also were taken into custody, Brantley said. All three women told police they were from San Diego.

“We think they were working as a team,” Brantley said. “I remember they gave us some trouble. Kicking. Screaming.”

Lee was convicted, sentenced to five to seven days in jail and given credit for time served while awaiting her court appearance. She was back on the streets at 12:30 a.m. May 2, standing in front of the Comfort Inn on Beach Boulevard in nearby Stanton. Lee and another woman spent more than an hour waving motorists into an adjacent parking lot and jumping into their cars.

The next day she was stopped on Garden Grove Boulevard west of Harbor. Dressed on a chilly evening in a tight, tan jacket, heels and a brown, leopard-print bathing suit, Lee became angry when approached by Officer Tim Murray, and even more so when a reporter and photographer walked by.

Shouted at Photographer

“I don’t want you taking pictures of my face ! I don’t want you taking pictures of my legs !” she shouted.

Most of the circuit prostitutes wear wigs and makeup. Unlike the locals, few are heroin addicts. They also are more expensive.

Local prostitutes will charge $20 to $40 for oral sex or sexual intercourse, Brantley said.

“Circuit girls will charge double that.”

“We call ourselves the ‘No Fun Detail’ because as vice officers we spoil what other people do for fun,” Robertson said as the Rent-a-Dents cruised Harbor Boulevard on a Saturday night. “Gambling, narcotics, prostitution . . . .”

Guillermo was giving the “No Fun Detail” cause to rejoice. Two women suspected of being prostitutes had allegedly solicited him within the first hour.

Cynthia was the first. The second was Valerie, a 19-year-old heroin addict from Orange who was arrested near a motel south of 17th Street. Morales was somber about being arrested. Frances was hysterical.

Frances was in Guillermo’s car less than a minute when the Camaro’s tail lights flickered.

The officers swooped down on the Camaro. “You gonna arrest me?” Frances cried. “But whyyyyyy?”

“For solicitation of prostitution,” Robertson said with a deadpan.

“I didn’t solicit nobody,” she moaned. “You guys think it’s like I killed somebody, the way you jumped out and got me. Do I have to go to jail? I just got out of jail two weeks ago.”

Taken to Jail

About 10 minutes later, a Santa Ana squad car drove up and took Frances to jail. She would remain there until her court appearance if she failed to come up with 10% of the $1,500 bail.

The detail’s third arrest was a surprise. Roberto, another undercover officer, was sitting behind the wheel of his Chevy in a shopping center parking lot, watching Gino approach a suspected hooker, when a young blonde in a striped blouse and peddle-pushers suddenly peered in his window.

“She asked me if I wanted a date,” Roberto said. “I said, ‘A date? I had the radio right in my lap. I was bending over so she wouldn’t see it.”

The woman asked him to meet her at a yellow van parked some distance away.

But in the few minutes it took Roberto to move his car the woman drove away with another man. The Rent-a-Dents cornered her in the parking lot of a Harbor Boulevard fast-food restaurant.

The woman, 23-year-old Wynette, yelled as her hands were cuffed behind her back, a process that revealed a map of scar tissue on her forearms. “I didn’t solicit nobody!” Wynette shouted. “I’ll do anything if you don’t take me to (expletive) jail! I didn’t solicit nobody!”

Normally calm, Robertson slammed his keys on the truck of his car. “You solicited an undercover cop, and you’re going to jail!” he said.

“Why?” she replied.

“Because I know how to do my job and you don’t,” he shot back. “That’s why.”

Man Released

Gino, who had been talking to the middle-aged man in the van, walked over to Robertson. “He said he wanted to talk to her about the Lord,” Gino said. “I asked him why he didn’t just talk to her in the parking lot, why he had to get in the van with the girl. He said he didn’t know.”

The vice officers let the man go. Then they opened the yellow van with the license frame reading, “Make a Friend Tonight.”

There was a cluttered bed in the back. One wall was covered with mirrors.

“Bingo!” the radio crackled.

The woman, who had been arrested earlier in the week on prostitution charges, was walking slowly down Harbor Boulevard near Washington Street at about 11:30 p.m., Saturday, just hours after a group of residents with picket signs protesting the hooker problem had gone home. Wearing a white jacket and light blue dress, she seemed to appear out of nowhere, just as the No Fun Detail began scanning the streets for telltale cabbies bringing the circuit girls from motels further north on Harbor.

“I’d love to get her,” Robertson said. He made a U-turn into a parking lot across the street and killed his headlights. He grabbed the radio. “Guillermo,” he said. “You go in first.”

Robertson watched intently as Guillermo’s brake lights went on. The woman got in the car and Guillermo pulled away, turning into a small shopping center about a hundred feet farther north. The car stopped and she stepped out.

“It was a no-go. She wouldn’t even talk about it.”

Looking for Big Money?

Two other officers also tried to pick her up. Both failed.

“Naa. She just looked at me with that big, weird eye and go, ‘Uh huuuuh.’ ”

Robertson shrugged. Perhaps she was looking for big money, he said. Or just being especially cautious.

“Who knows what she’s thinking,” Robertson said, grabbing for the radio. “OK guys. Let’s head back.”

One by one the Rent-a-Dents turned off the thoroughfare and headed back to the station, leaving the woman strolling slowly along the sidewalk, beneath the lights of Harbor Boulevard.