West Street Story

Oldest Profession Is Latest Police Target

April 19, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

"West Street Story," a story in the Sunday edition of the Anne Arundel County Sun on prostitution in Annapolis, contained an incorrect statistic.

Forty-three arrests have been made, 32 of which have beenagainst men charged with solicitation.

In the shadowy light of a street lamp on Annapolis' West Street, a young woman in faded jeans and a neon jacket walks slowly back and forth.

Two men saunter past her and stare. Cars stop at the corneras men peer out the windows, or speed up, the drivers looking straight ahead. The swish of traffic on the rain-slickened road is interrupted occasionally as men beep their horns, or call out "Hey baby!" to offer her a ride.

An all-American 25-year-old with long hair, she looks both innocent and streetwise. She does know West Street well, better even than some of the women she's scared away recently. She's an undercover cop.

In the past three months, the officer and her colleagues at the Annapolis Police Department have repeatedly posed as prostitutes on inner West Street. Business has been brisk. The undercover officers, working overtime shifts, have racked up a startling tally -- 43 men arrested for soliciting sexual favors within just 11 weeks.

Male officers dressed as prospective clients have arrested nine women on prostitution charges since mid-January. One 24-year-old Annapolis woman fell for the ruse three times.

The crackdown has chased away some of the half-dozen women who were boldly soliciting business along the blocks leading from Cathedral Street to Monticello Avenue. One is in jail. Several have left the area. And the ladies of the night who still come out after dusk check warily for police.

Inearly January, area residents and merchants complained to police that the streetwalkers had become more active, openly flagging down carsat night and "hitchhiking" in broad daylight. Residents of City Gate, a town house community behind West Street, were annoyed by prostitutes taking their clients to parking lots there.

City police responded by stepping up their patrols of West Street. In separate stings in January, officers posing as prostitutes or clients arrested six women and three men. By the end of March, police had made 11 arrests on prostitution charges and more than 30 on charges of solicitation.

"It's really been kind of unbelievable," said Alderman Ruth Gray, a Republican representing the city's 4th Ward, which includes part of West Street. "Everyone is saying, 'What can we do about this?' Everyone's been tearing their hair out on it."

Many residents reacted at first in disbelief. Maryland's capital is a peaceful city, known for its historic charm and the U.S. Naval Academy. Residents also had a hard time spotting some of the prostitutes, since they often wear jeansand sneakers.

Many city residents expressed surprise as the number of men arrested for solicitation kept rising.

"It's something else. Drugs, the recession, poverty, all those ingredients have led to streetwalkers. And they've attracted people going to Bible classes and the Naval Academy," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5.

Most have been white men in their mid-20s to 30s from the Annapolis area. Often they're married, said Cpl. Alan Marshall, who runs some of the undercover operations. A 19-year-old was arrested once, as was a 57-year-old.

Last week, police charged three out-of-state men with solicitation. But the overwhelming majority have come from Annapolis or surrounding areas -- Odenton, Arnold, Pasadena.

Merchants on West Street have had widely varying reactions to the crackdown. Most applaud the police efforts and the publicity, saying it has slowed the prostitution and is deterring the women's prospective customers. But others blame it for bringing the street an unwanted notoriety.

"I think it's done a world of good," said Jim Martin, owner of Free StatePress. He belongs to a group of community leaders mapping out additional strategies to end the problem. One idea, he said, is to team with drug counselors and go out late at night to ask the women if they need help.

Others complain that the number of prostitutes and prospective clients increased because of the publicity.

"I feel the problem worsened," said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff. "Business people came to me and said, 'Mike, it's getting worse, there are more(women) coming here.' Once the light was shown on the area, it became recognized for more than it was."

Police disagree that the operation had a reverse effect. Fewer and fewer women are out on the street at nights, and the arrest records don't indicate new ones are flocking to the area, said Dermott Hickey, a police spokesman.

"I wouldthink the publicity would be more beneficial because people must know now we're out there, and they're taking a risk," he said.

Indeed, men and women arrested recently appear to know about the crackdown.They often are familiar with the average $15 or $20 price range on the street. And when asked by police, they confess they took a chance.

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