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Plan to Ban Prostitutes

Santa Ana’s latest plan to drive prostitutes and their clients from Harbor Boulevard and out of town by declaring them public nuisances is no better or more constitutional than the hare-brained scheme the city was contemplating several months ago.

Last September, the city was considering seeking court orders to allow police to bar from Harbor Boulevard women who merely dressed or acted like prostitutes. Someone on the city staff must have finally realized the obvious--that there are legal and constitutional problems trying to arrest someone based merely on how she looks or dresses.

The latest plan, which the city last Tuesday did actually launch in a lawsuit filed in Superior Court, is just as constitutionally questionable. What Santa Ana now seeks is an injunction against 350 convicted prostitutes and their customers, declaring them a public nuisance. If the court issues the order, then any prostitutes and their clients could be cited and held in contempt of court and jailed if they returned to Harbor Boulevard for any reason--conceivably only to wait for a bus.

An attorney for the city said the approach “has never been done before in California and maybe not anywhere in the U.S.” No wonder. It has the same basic flaw as the original plan in that it seeks to arrest someone before she breaks a law, in this case because of a previous conviction, not because of any specific wrongdoing.

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We can understand the frustration that police and city officials face in trying to satisfy the justifiable complaints of merchants and residents against the streetwalkers, but that doesn’t justify suspending the constitution and jailing people for nothing more than their mere presence on a public street. It is difficult to imagine any judge going along with that.

If the courts do want to help discourage prostitution, on Harbor Boulevard and elsewhere throughout the county, they should set the highest bail and impose the strictest jail sentences that the law allows for anyone rightfully arrested and convicted of soliciting or engaging in prostitution. Prostitution will never be eradicated, but it can be discouraged considerably if hookers on Harbor Boulevard know that conviction here means a long time off the street, in a jail cell. Which is another reason to put the sales tax measure for a new jail on the ballot.


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