PPD Chief mulls prostitution sting methods

By Frank Lewis

July 28, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware says there are different dynamics when his department targets the “johns” in a prostitution sting.

“It’s a little harder to do the johns because then you’ve got to find somebody that you can put out there that looks the look and fits the role and still knows all the constitutionalities and the legalities of it,” Ware said.

The vice squad of the Columbus Police Department announced recently they are going to change the way they deal with prostitution by targeting the customers.

According to a story in the Columbus Dispatch Columbus vice squad detectives will now spend as much time targeting customers as they do the prostitutes because they say the customers, known as “johns,” have more to lose.

“Generally speaking I’d agree with that,” Ware said.

Has the Portsmouth Police Department targeted the customers?

“Actually we have done that a couple of times that I know of,” Ware said. “The last time when we put their pictures in the paper it raised a debate as to whether or not they should be put in there or not - does it do more harm to their families than it does them?”

Ware said it’s a “tough call.”

“But we’ll do both sides of it,” Ware said.

From late May until late June the Columbus vice detectives almost exclusively arrested customers, taking 71 people into custody.

In June, a month-long, undercover operation conducted by the Nassau County, New York District Attorney’s Office and the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) resulted in the arrest of 104 suspected johns accused of using the website Backpage.com to arrange meetings with undercover police officers posing as prostitutes.

“Sex workers are often vulnerable victims of traffickers and pimps, yet they too often remain the prime targets in prostitution investigations while the johns who fuel the exploitation are treated as mere witnesses,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. “My office and the police department are turning the tables on the illogical and immoral nature of that equation.”

Visual and audio footage of each meeting was captured by hidden cameras located in the hotel rooms that served as the scene of the stings. The group of men arrested includes doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, and other professionals.

The defendants have all been arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the crime of Patronizing a Prostitute in the Third Degree. Each defendant faces a maximum of one year in jail if convicted of the charge.

The arrests, which took place between April 18 and May 24, mark a dramatic expansion in how Nassau County law enforcement agencies traditionally target prostitution. In the last 10 years, fewer than 40 johns have been arrested by police.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.