Old battle, new tactic: 'Prostitution Free Zones' Councilman calls bill 'important tool'

October 15, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In the shadows of the plain storefronts lining Patapsco Avenue, prostitutes in skintight jeans slouch on street corners and beckon with lewd gestures to prospective customers.

They even hang out in broad daylight and solicit drivers stopped at traffic lights. City police officers have raided the street. Residents have chased the prostitutes away with video cameras and picket signs. Still, they keep coming back.

Now a city councilman wants to try a new tactic: "Prostitution Free Zones."

Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, who represents the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay areas in South Baltimore, plans to introduce a bill Monday that would prohibit loitering, lewdness and repeated attempts to stop cars at designated street corners.

"It's just not acceptable to have residential neighborhoods turning into The Block," Mr. Murphy said, referring to Baltimore's downtown red-light district.

"I recognize this is not going to end the world's oldest profession," the 6th District Democrat said. "But I think it will be an important tool for police and prosecutors."

His proposal is patterned after the drug-free zones created by cities across the nation, including Baltimore, in recent years. Signs have been posted at street corners and school yards designating them "drug-free" and allowing police to arrest loiterers.

Mr. Murphy's proposal would provide for fines of up to $1,000 and jail terms of up to a year. The current penalty for those convicted of prostitution is a $500 fine and a jail term of up to a year, but there are often related charges, and sentences can vary widely.

Meanwhile, another measure aimed at toughening the punishment for convicted prostitutes is being introduced by Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge. The 2nd District Democrat is requesting a hearing on a resolution that calls for sentencing those convicted of prostitution to sweeping the city's streets. He has not drafted legislation yet.

"To a lot of hookers, the fine is just the cost of doing business," Mr. Ambridge said. "Instead of a slap on the wrist, they should be sentenced to community service such as sweeping the street they once offended."

Community groups that have been fighting losing battles against prostitution applauded both efforts. But the Baltimore Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about the possibility that innocent people might be harassed in the "Prostitution Free Zones."

Kathy Rist, president of the Eutaw Place Improvement Association, says prostitutes hitch up their skirts at the bus stop on her street and have taken to hanging out on homeowners' porches. They harass the workmen who come to the area near North Avenue, she said, and the problem "seems to have gotten to a new height in the last six months."

Many city residents say they are fed up with encountering prostitutes in front of their homes. In Southeast Baltimore, neighbors north of Patterson Park began walking their dogs twice a week in an effort to hound prostitutes from the streets.

Residents of Brooklyn, a tidy, working-class community on the Anne Arundel County line, decided to try to reclaim their streets by videotaping the men who stop to pick up prostitutes. They also have marched on Patapsco Avenue carrying signs that urge drivers to "Honk if You Hate Hookers."

John Knight, vice president of Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn, believes both of the proposed City Council measures would help.

He also is lobbying state legislators to introduce a bill that would allow city police officers to confiscate the vehicle of anyone arrested on charges of soliciting sex for money.

"Prostitution has been called a victimless crime," Mr. Knight said. "But the victim is the whole neighborhood."

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