Effort to list names stalls

Few men convicted of solicitation

state balked at plan

Mayor sought deterrent

April 19, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A plan by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to clean up Baltimore's sex-for-money trade by publishing the names and pictures of men convicted of solicitation has been stymied by legal roadblocks and few guilty findings in court.

The state balked at distributing mug shots, fearing it would violate the rights of those arrested. So few men were convicted that publishing the names was hardly worthwhile. Such a list compiled of cases dating to October would contain two names.

"The police are out there arresting and doing their job," said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman. "The cases should be taken the rest of the way and prosecuted. There has to be some sort of deterrent out there."

But the state's attorney's office countered that police are not arresting enough men, and indicated little apparent coordination between City Hall and police headquarters.

"Before the mayor makes a big announcement, maybe he should check with his Police Department as to what enforcement plans they have," said Assistant State's Attorney Laura Mullally, chief of the District Court Division.

Mullally said that police prostitution stings nab 25 women for every one man, and she said arresting male customers serves as a greater deterrent against prostitution than arresting female prostitutes because men are most likely to be embarrassed and scared away.

"These are usually married men from the suburbs," the prosecutor said. "I don't know what happened, but we don't see too many of these cases. It's sexism. The police are just going after the women."

Schmoke announced his publicity plans in December after being stung by reports that showed Baltimore led the nation with syphilis and gonorrhea cases, and health officials blamed prostitution as the leading cause of venereal diseases.

The city became the butt of jokes on national late night television -- "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno joked that while New York is the city that never sleeps, Baltimore is where no one "sleeps alone."

Police were unable last week to provide a breakdown of male and female prostitution arrests. Statistics police provided to Schmoke show 54 arrests of men from October through January.

Most of the defendants, 46 of them, are awaiting trial. Two were sentenced to probation before judgment -- not considered a conviction under Maryland law -- and a handful of cases were dropped or placed on an inactive docket.

Two men were found guilty, with the most severe penalty a $150 fine. The misdemeanor conviction of soliciting prostitution carries a maximum one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"We don't drop these cases," Mullally said. "It's a quality-of-life issue for anybody who has lived in a neighborhood with prostitutes. You get tired of being bothered by them."

In the most recent prostitution sweep, police Friday night hit areas of Southeast Baltimore along Pulaski Highway and around Patterson Park. They arrested 38 people in four hours, including 21 men.

Lt. Richard L. James, who heads Southeastern District's operations unit, said his officers try to combat the problem by targeting women and men.

All of those arrested Friday were taken to a basement firing range at the Eastern Avenue station house, where officers filled out reports in an assembly-line fashion.

Each of the women arrested was questioned by homicide detectives who tried to elicit information about shootings and killings they might have heard about. One of the women offered tips on a suspected drug operation.

"We were down there doing something we shouldn't," said another woman, who pointed at several men sitting in handcuffs nearby. "But we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. It's their fault."

Fourteen of the men arrested -- charged with soliciting undercover female officers posing as prostitutes -- were from suburban counties.

They ranged in age from 20 to 60. One drove up in a taxi. Another was in a BMW. One man was riding a bicycle. One asked for leniency because he claimed to have top-secret government clearance; he actually was a welder.

Arrests were so brisk on Pulaski Highway east of Highlandtown that police had to take a break about 10 p.m. when they had arrested eight people between Highland Avenue and North Haven Street.

While officers were arresting one man in a gas station parking lot, another female officer was solicited less than 100 yards away.

Police acknowledged few would see jail time. The harshest punishment for many would be explaining to their wives what happened Friday night and why their cars had been towed.

"They got to get the courts straightened out and put these people in jail," said Eddie Sacks, who lives on Conkling Street at Pulaski Highway, and watched officers load a van full of suspects near his house. "You don't sit on your porch because of the prostitutes."

Inside a cruiser, one man complained about his arrest. "You made a choice tonight, and it was the wrong one," Officer John Choinski Jr. told him.

The man sighed. "Yeah, I know," he answered.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.