Anne Arundel Co. police target prostitutes in Laurel Effort aims to treat addicts and help find job training

November 30, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Officer Michelle McBride and some of her colleagues in Anne Arundel County's western police district are trying to solve a problem that has troubled the world since the beginning of time and their corner of it for decades.

They're trying to remove the prostitutes who work the strip of Laurel-Fort Meade Road at Whiskey Bottom Road through a combination of drug and alcohol treatment, housing and job training -- not just arrests.

Prostitutes have routinely been a nuisance to residents in Bacontown, the small community near where the prostitutes gather.

Impatience about resolving the problem has become more pronounced over the past few years.

Although community groups have offered health screening to the women, and county police have operated stings, this is one of the first attempts to combine the efforts of county police, the Health Department, community leaders, shelters and the courts.

Instead of arresting women over and over in an attempt to push them out of the area, McBride and fellow officers try to push them into a better life.

After their arrests, the women are offered drug and alcohol treatment from the Health Department during a court hearing.

In the meantime, McBride seeks housing and job training for the women. She said she hopes some of the housing and training will be supplied by the community through its churches.

"For a while, none of the girls had any counseling or screening or anything," said McBride, a member of the Western District Tactical Patrol Unit. "But the johns, when they are arrested, they're required to do mandatory AIDS testing and drug screening" by the courts.

The women were usually released and returned to the street -- sometimes within hours -- where they continued the cycle of sex for money for drugs, McBride said.

"To talk to most of these girls it's kind of difficult to see how they got out there," said McBride, mentioning one woman who was a computer programmer before she got hooked on crack cocaine and turned to prostitution.

"If they could push themselves into rehab, they could be productive citizens," McBride said.

That's what one woman, who used to frequent the corner, said she is trying to do. Distraught after a short-lived marriage dissolved, she said she slipped into drinking and smoking crack, and found herself on the streets again.

"I would use drugs because I was lonely. I had nobody around me," she said.

Police offer a simple deal that begins when the woman is arrested: She may plead guilty to the drug or prostitution charges, attend substance-abuse counseling and, if successful with treatment, get a suspended sentence or probation before judgment.

Counseling continues for a year after sentencing.

"The carrot in this program is that they're guaranteed if they remain in the program, they will not be sent to jail," said Assistant State's Attorney Michael Cogan.

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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