It was 8 p.m. Thursday on Harbor Boulevard, and two men driving a blue Toyota pulled over to the curb near 17th Street in Santa Ana to talk to two women on the street.
As the men spoke, Santa Ana police officers zeroed in on them. The men, who soon were out of their car and seated on the ground, their hands covering their faces, were issued citations for parking in a no-stopping zone.
Police gave the women, who were suspected of being prostitutes, verbal warnings that they were considered “a public nuisance” and told them that if either returned to the area they would be arrested.
“We’re not sure it’ll work,” Santa Ana Police Sgt. Bill Scheer said of this latest enforcement effort, launched Thursday evening, to try to rid the stretch of Harbor Boulevard of prostitutes.
“It’s a tool we’re going to try,” he said.
The special team of patrol cars was enforcing a new city ordinance, passed earlier this month, that prohibits drivers from stopping along a stretch of Harbor Boulevard from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m.
By 10 p.m., five suspected prostitutes were arrested and seven citations were issued to male drivers who had stopped in the area, police said.
To alert the public to the new law, “No Stopping” signs have been posted on Harbor Boulevard from Westminster Avenue on the city’s north end to Warner Avenue in the south. Police say prostitution traffic is heaviest in that area.
Drivers who ignore the signs will be cited for a traffic violation and fined, police said. And women who encourage men to stop along Harbor Boulevard will be arrested for creating a public nuisance, officers added.
Men who are cited will be called to court to testify as witnesses in the women’s cases, police said.
Thursday’s sweep was just one of several recent efforts to fight prostitution on Harbor Boulevard.
In January, Santa Ana city officials filed a suit in Superior Court asking that 350 convicted prostitutes and their “johns” be declared a public nuisance. Under that plan, police handed out complaint citations to prostitutes and their clients who congregated on Harbor Boulevard, warning them that they would face more serious penalties if they returned to the thoroughfare.
But civil libertarians immediately opposed the effort, and on Feb. 8 a Superior Court judge rejected the plan, saying the city had failed to establish that the people cited by police in recent weeks had done anything wrong.
Scheer, a 16-year veteran of the Santa Ana department, said police have conducted anti-prostitution sweeps four or five times every year since 1984.
“It’ll move them around, out of our town,” he said. But he added that the problem is continual, with more prostitutes coming to the area despite periodic sweeps.
“For about 30 days (after the January sweeps of Harbor Boulevard), the (prostitution) traffic was light,” Scheer said. “In the past few weeks, it has picked up again.”