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About 200 Turn Out to Bolster Attack on Street Prostitution

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Tom Oliphant was parking his pickup truck in front of his Santa Ana mobile home around midnight several years ago when he said the passenger door opened and two women jumped in.

“They were prostitutes, and they wanted to do business,” Oliphant recalled Thursday night, adding that the women hurried away when he threatened to drive the truck to the nearest police station.

Oliphant said it wasn’t the only time he has encountered prostitutes in his mobile home park, located just off Harbor Boulevard on Washington Street. He and his wife, Dorothy, said that prostitutes and their customers sometimes conduct their business at night in cars parked in front of the mobile homes.

About 200 Turn Out

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The Oliphants were among about 200 Santa Ana residents and merchants who vented their frustration Thursday night at a meeting called by the Santa Ana Police Department as part of a planned crackdown on prostitutes who frequent Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana and Garden.

Those attending the meeting at a local church were asked to write down their problems with prostitution in their neighborhoods. Police department officials said they plan to use those statements in affidavits when they apply for court orders to cite and arrest suspected street prostitutes before they solicit customers.

Under the plan, which is still in a preliminary stage, police would obtain court orders allowing officers to bar from Harbor Boulevard any women who dress and behave like prostitutes. For example, women in skimpy clothing who flag down cars and get into them would be subject first to a warning, then arrest and citation for contempt.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday criticized the plan as “illegal and unconstitutional.”

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But officials for both Santa Ana and Garden Grove police said a recent surge in prostitution on Harbor Boulevard has forced them to propose the unconventional law enforcement plan, which they hope to take to court in about a month.

Most of those present Thursday night were pleased that some action was being contemplated.

Dorothy Oliphant said she strongly supports the plan. “We’ve had eight years of (the prostitution activity), and I’m fed up,” she said.

One man who lives on Hazard Street told officers that prostitutes and their customers “are parking five and six a night on our street. We’ve got little children here. What are you going to do?” he asked. The officers responded by urging the man to sign the affidavit, which he did.

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If a Superior Court judge grants the restraining order, Santa Ana police say, officers will be able to arrest prostitutes before they actually have solicited a customer. They also hope the order will lead to increased bail for arrested prostitutes, making it harder for them to avoid jail.

Santa Ana Police Lt. James Davis said those subject to arrest would likely include only prostitutes arrested previously, and thus known to the police, or prostitutes who have first been warned about the restraining order and crackdown. Beyond that, he said, “the person who wants to go out there and look weird (and act like a prostitute) is certainly protected” from arrest.

Several Harbor Boulevard merchants who attended the meeting said that while prostitution activity hasn’t necessarily affected their businesses, they must nonetheless pick up discarded condoms, used drug syringes and empty, broken bottles of alcohol in front of their stores when they come to work in the morning.

Bruce Fisher, who owns a car dealership on Harbor, said he supported seeking a court order against the prostitutes, but he believes that the only deterrent to the problem is fines in the thousands of dollars.

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“Hit them in the pocketbook,” he said. “I don’t care what business you’re in, if you hit them in the pocket, goodby.”

John Raya, president of the group Santa Ana Neighbors for Excellence, said he was heartened by the turnout at Thursday’s meeting but feels overall that city officials and residents “haven’t committed the resources” to fighting prostitution. “The success of this (meeting) will not be determined tonight,” Raya told the audience. “It will be determined by the pressure we put on judges and how we will work with the Police Department.”

Police officers at Thursday’s meeting cautioned against hoping for a quick solution to the problem.

“It’s not like you’re going to turn on a light switch and every (prostitute) will be gone,” said Lt. Dan McCoy. “It’s going to take some time.”

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The Police Department’s latest plan to deal with prostitution, believed to be the first of its kind in Southern California, also has come under fire from COYOTE, a prostitution-rights organization based in San Francisco. Priscilla Alexander, a spokeswoman for COYOTE, predicted that the police strategy would not stop prostitution, but “would only make the problem worse.”

Lt. John Baker of the Garden Grove Police Department said that “if Santa Ana is successful in their attempt (for a restraining order), we will do the same.”

Garden Grove’s prostitution problem is also on Harbor Boulevard, just north of Westminster Avenue, and police say prostitutes often move back and forth between the two cities when soliciting customers. While Baker said that Garden Grove’s prostitution problem has decreased in the last six months or so, thanks mainly to stepped-up police activity, he noted that “there’s no safe bet the problem won’t crop up elsewhere (in the city) in the future.”

Frank Keleher of Santa Ana, who said he lives on Harbor Boulevard and sees dozens of prostitutes on the street when leaving for work in the morning, expressed pessimism that either city’s problem could be eradicated.

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“I wonder,” he asked Thursday night, “how many meetings like this they’ve held over the years?”


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