3 Cities Join in Assault on Harbor Blvd. Prostitution
Faced with a growing prostitution trade along Harbor Boulevard that may boom during an anticipated heavy tourist season this summer, officials from three Orange County cities met Monday to plan strategy for an assault on the problem.
Mayors, city managers and police chiefs from Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim--the three cities that encompass Harbor’s seven-mile prostitution strip--assembled at noon in the Garden Grove Community Meeting Center and discussed the issue for about an hour.
They promised to hold further sessions in the next two weeks with officials from the district attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Department and the Municipal courts.
Garden Grove Mayor Jonathan H. Cannon said the coordinated effort will be aimed primarily at prostitutes who come into town to capitalize on the tourist trade. “We’re not talking about free-lancers. We’re talking about circuit prostitutes,” he said.
The three cities will work on developing a system of information, such as mug shots and fingerprints obtained after arrests, to be able to swiftly determine prior convictions.
Cannon said prostitutes arrested in Garden Grove have been released or given short jail terms because prior arrest records weren’t shown or were “ignored” by judges. State law requires that a second offense be punished by 45 days in jail, with 90 days required for three or more convictions.
A task force approach to the issue hasn’t been discussed by the three cities before, Cannon said, “because we assumed the system was working. It isn’t.”
Last summer, he said, the problem became clear to him after residents complained about increased prostitution near Harbor Boulevard and Quatro Avenue. Cannon asked police to investigate and was told that an undercover operation netted 17 arrests out of 20 women seen operating on the corner the first night.
Short Sentences Given
A subsequent sweep resulted in another 15 arrests, and Cannon believed the problem was being resolved. Then residents returned to complain that nothing had changed on the corner.
Cannon requested the police reports and found that the same people were being arrested but were getting only five-day sentences.
“We’ve had prostitutes arrested for the 15th or 16th time who’ve gotten five days,” he said.
Cannon said he believes that there is some perception within the court system that prostitution is a victimless crime and therefore should be treated lightly. He noted that prostitutes themselves are often the victims of either robbery or assault. In addition, innocent women on Harbor Boulevard are propositioned because of the thoroughfare’s well-known trade, he said.
In fact, said Santa Ana City Manager Robert C. Bobb, the prostitution trade produces an abundance of victims of such crimes as robbery, assault, murder, drug abuse and rape.
“We totally disagree with social libertarians who say prostitution is a victimless crime,” Bobb said.
Residents living near Harbor Boulevard have grown accustomed to sharing their environment with prostitutes, Bobb added. “Many of these problems occur next to residential areas. Those people shouldn’t have to be exposed to that.”
Bobb said he believes that there may be more prostitutes on the boulevard this summer to capitalize on the increased tourism that is being predicted, in part because people will choose to stay in the United States out of fear of terrorism in Europe.
Anaheim Police Capt. Randall Gaston stressed that the city attorney’s office handles Anaheim’s cases and that “very good support” has been received from judges. The other two cities hand their cases over to the district attorney.
The officials agreed that they will attempt to meet with officials from the various court systems and the district attorney’s office “within 10 days” to discuss the issue.
“We’ll sure be glad to meet with them any time and discuss whatever concerns they have,” said Assistant Dist. Atty. Edward J. Merrilees. While he doesn’t know of any “substantial differences” in the way cases are handled between the different court systems, Merrilees said he wouldn’t want to make any conclusion before hearing the cities’ concerns.
Arrests in Other Cities
Cannon said the cities expect to sign agreements allowing for “concurrent jurisdiction” in policing the boulevard. That way, officers will be able to make arrests in each other’s cities.
As it is, he said, if prostitutes spot a Garden Grove undercover officer working intersections on the border between cities, “they’ll just walk across the street and stand in Anaheim.”
The cities are also concerned by recent instructions from Sheriff Brad Gates to Orange County Jail officials to cite and release most misdemeanor defendants, including prostitutes, rather than holding them.
“I am in total sympathy with the sheriff’s problem. He’s under a federal court-ordered mandate and he’s got nowhere to turn,” said Garden Grove Police Chief Frank Kessler.
“Cities that have prostitution problems can only give out citations. That means they just go to the next corner and do it all over again.”
Without the threat of incarceration, said Kessler, the prostitutes know they can get away with plying their trade on Harbor.
“The potential for escalation is tremendous,” he said. “The certainty of punishment and the swiftness of the process is always the greatest deterrent.”