Police target prostitution in Forest Park

60 people arrested in area since March

January 10, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

After months of battling a serious prostitution problem on the streets of Forest Park, Baltimore police say they have begun to thin the ranks of street walkers plying their trade there.

The problem was so serious that more than three dozen women apparently walked up and down a strip stretching from Gwynn Falls Parkway to Liberty Heights Avenue on Garrison Boulevard -- many of them visible in front of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Forest Park branch.

Northwest District police officers have arrested about 60 people on prostitution-related offenses since March and have plastered neighborhood telephone poles with posters warning would-be clients that they face arrest.

The area around the library "would be the hottest area for prostitution that we have," said Maj. Zeinab Rabold, the Northwest District police commander. "But it has been knocked down so much that when you ride through there you just don't see it that much."

A caller to a radio talk-show last week disputed that, saying a man was running a prostitution ring from the library. The call was made during a WJHU "Marc Steiner Show" radio interview Wednesday with police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel.

Rabold and other police officials deny the allegation, but residents who use the library say at least one, sometimes two, middle-aged men sit in the library's children's section and monitor prostitutes through a large window.

"It's everywhere you go, the women are out here selling," said Monique Givens, 22, of the 3700 block of Oakmont Ave. "The men sit in the library and wait for the women to get back they sit there and read books or read the paper."

Joseph L. Henley, president of Forest Park Neighborhood Association and a Friends of the Forest Park Library board member, said library employees chased a man from the library's children's section several times during the summer. Henley said the library is hiring a security guard.

Enoch Pratt Free Library spokeswoman Judy Cooper said: "There was a guy, but [library workers] have not seen him in several months. He was there with a woman and a child acting like he was using the library."

Library volunteer Martin Charolette said she had noticed the suspicious activity. "Once [the library] is open, you can't turn anyone away," she said.

Basha Jordan Jr., a community leader who operates an outreach program for Forest Park prostitutes and drug addicts, said he doubts the prostitution was organized enough to be a ring with one person running it. Most of the prostitutes work alone.

"Since I am in close contact with those prostitutes on a first-name basis and pray with them and feed them, if there was a pimp around there I would know that," said Jordan, founder of Hope Alive Ministry Deliverance Fellowship. "Most of the prostitutes are only strung out on drugs or alcoholics."

Police and residents say the women -- who are classified as "sporadic" prostitutes because they work for themselves and only long enough to get drug money -- cause more problems for the community than the professionals.

Community leaders say they have noticed a change since intense police efforts began in the spring.

The Rev. Stanley Long, pastor of Forest Park Presbyterian Church, said prostitutes conducted business on church property, but "it has not been that bad" during the past year. "Whereas there used to be three or four prostitutes in every block, now it's more scattered," he said.

Rabold attributes the decrease to the recent sting operations and a new policy where all arrested prostitutes' photographs are filed in a scrapbook so they can be identified in the future.

"I can say honestly and holistically that we started hitting them really, really super hard," Rabold said, noting more arrests are expected.

The maximum sentence for prostitution is a $500 fine and one year in prison, according to the state's attorney's office.

Most offenders, however, receive a minor fine and no jail time, Rabold said. That, she says, will cause Forest Park's problems to continue until fundamental changes in the court system are made.

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