End Demand Worcester

I know many readers care about prostitution arrest rates in the city.

If you’ve been living under a hole (which is where I spend much of my time), you may have missed some publicity for a group called End Demand Worcester, which will have a rally this Wednesday at 5:30pm at the Main South CDC.

As this blog has pointed out numerous times, the arrest rates for men compared with women in prostitution-related arrests is appalling.

As I’ve said in years past, I remain skeptical of impounding cars and other “shaming” techniques for johns because (1) those can also negatively impact women and children and (2) very few men are actually convicted of these crimes — it usually turns into a case that’s continued without finding for a year or two and eventually dismissed.  The criminal justice system would have to radically change (and I’m not sure I’d want it to) to make these work.

Worcester Police: #YesAllWomen

It’s been a couple of years since we looked at gender inequality in prostitution arrests in the City of Worcester.

As I said a couple of years ago, it’s difficult to track prostitution-related arrests.  So allow me to focus on the press releases issued by WPD for 2013-2014:

January 20, 2013: 5 men, 9 women

May 17, 2013: 5 men, 10 women

June 5, 2013: 2 men, 3 women

March 20, 2014: 0 men, 5 women

May 21, 2014: 2 men, 6 women

So — from the press releases for the past year and a half, 70% of the prostitution sting arrests have been women.

If you’re looking at 2014, it’s a whopping 84%.

I’m not sure if the Vice Squad was anticipating the #YesAllWomen hashtag, or somehow took it the wrong way.

Not to sound hysterical, but would it be too much to ask for a bit of gender parity in Main South prositution stings?  (Especially considering the effort we took to try to impound johns’ cars just a few short years ago…)

Keeping up with the johns-es

If there’s one thing this blog is a bit obsessed with (besides sans-serif fonts and secret cabals with Kevin Ksen), it’s monitoring the WPD’s prostitution sting press releases.

Just so we can keep a running tab for the year:

January 10 – 2 males, 9 females

January 22 – 4 males, 4 females

March 9 – 3 males, 1 female

March 22 – 5 males, 4 females

May 24 – 2 males, 4 females

June 14 – 0 males, 3 females

July 19 – 0 males, 5 females

September 8 – 11 males, 5 females

For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 27 males and 35 females (56% female).  Before the September 8 sting, it was 16 males and 30 females (65% female).

It’s rather difficult to track other prostitution-related arrests, or clearly identify a male or a female (as most folks are charged with “sexual conduct for a fee”).  Looking at court records doesn’t always tell the whole story; many cases are continued and eventually dismissed.

Recently, the Telegram had an article (“Police opt for video hub fed by cameras: Real-time data to help street patrols” by Thomas Caywood, 14 September) and an editorial (“Inescapable eyes: A free society should debate RTCC idea“, 17 September) about a WPD-run video surveillance center called the Real Time Crime Center.

It should come as no surprise to longtime readers of the blog that I adamantly oppose this kind of monitoring of people’s activities.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in Worcester for more than a year that the WPD has received a grant to begin work on such a system and is requesting bids — without any community input.

Of course, another program that did not involve the community at all — the latest “solution” to panhandling — has not been successful, at least according to Councilor Rushton.

I would not mind overlords who ran my life if they were compassionate and competent, but one cannot rely on those two qualities in this city.

And — lest we forget — the WPD recently did not release video that the could have identified an arsonist at large in the downtown area.

I’m sure there will be more to learn about the video surveillance project in months to come; I’ll try my best to cover that.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but my resolution for 2013 is definitely to read the city budget.

On page 152 of the pdf of the FY2013 budget, there are all sorts of fascinating estimates from the WPD:

Actual calls for service in FY11: 95,321
Projected calls for service in FY12: 163,407
Projected calls for service in FY13: 163,407

Actual patrol initiated calls in FY11: 28,551
Projected patrol initiated calls in FY12: 48,945
Projected patrol initiated calls in FY13: 48,945

Actual homicides in FY11: 9
Projected homicides in FY12: 15
Projected homicides in FY13: 15

Take a look — there’s a projected increase of 60-70% in nearly every category.

Not sure what that means, but I’d love to know if we’re in the middle of a massive crimewave.

“Hysterical female”

I understand the need for color and context in WPD press releases.

But some adjectives are unnecessary:


…and it’s good to know that we’re targeting johns at the same rate as we are prostitutes!

Tip to the two ladies charged with being a common nightwalker: the state has to prove that “the defendant was walking the streets at night.”

Perhaps in Bizarro Worcester, people can be arrested between 6am-10:30am for walking the streets at night.

But I’d expect a little more from Real Worcester.

Putting the “Personal” in “Personal Privilege”

I attended the first few minutes of last week’s city council meeting, long enough to see Rick Rushton hold the johns item under personal privilege.  That means the item will be up again for the Council’s review tomorrow evening.

Last week, Councilor Haller somewhat clarified (or perhaps corrected) the thrust of the proposal.  As Jeremy reported, ‘Haller clarifie[d] the car would be impounded after “arrest and conviction.”‘

And there’s the rub.

You see, no one actually gets convicted of the charge of paying for sexual conduct.

I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the Courthouse Records from the Telegram for the past decade or so; they are incomplete, but the best I can work with on relatively short notice.  Any mention of statistics in Worcester that follow should be taken with that grain of salt.

Since the implementation of the CARD Program four years ago [click here first for access], roughly half the men charged with paying for sexual conduct have opted to attend that program in exchange for having the case continued without finding.  The other half have their cases continued without finding, or are given a small ($600 or less) fine, or have the cases dismissed.

Let’s say that the state makes the proposed bill a law, and that men convicted of this crime would have their car taken away.  At that point, most men who would otherwise opt for a fine (which I assume would mean a conviction, but I welcome a correction to that assumption) would then likely opt for the CARD Program, which would be $200 and a continuance.

So, we’d see even fewer convictions than we already do, and have a pretty ineffective (and never-used) law on the books.

‘But wait!’  you say.  ‘When a man is arrested for a second time, that continuance without finding can quickly turn into a conviction.’

Excellent idea, dear reader.

Except that in my slightly-less-than-comprehensive review of records, I couldn’t find an example of a repeat offender.

While this could be due to the incomplete records, it is consistent with the experience of communities across the country.  If you scroll down this long report about the efficacy of johns schools [similar to the CARD Program] in California to page 91, you’ll see that in multiple cities, the rate of men who were rearrested for solicitation within a year of a previous arrest was consistently less than 0.1% (and in most cases, far less than that).

It’s unclear why there is a low recidivism rate for johns.  According to Monto and Garcia, “recidivism rates may be low because many of the men caught in sweeps are not regular users or because the arrest gives them insight into law enforcement strategies that reduces the likelihood that they will be rearrested, even if they continue to patronize prostitutes.”  Also, “the arrest itself may serve as a deterrent.”

In fact, according to a survey of 127 johns in Buffalo that was conducted in 1999, nearly half (66) were concerned about being arrested.  Only one man — less than 1% of the respondents — was concerned about having his vehicle seized.  (And that’s in a city where impounding johns’ cars is allowed!)

What does that tell us?

Arrests are sufficient deterrents for many first-time (or infrequent) johns.

Men who solicit on a regular basis are not going to be fooled by a police decoy (either because they are more savvy or because they are already familiar with whom they want to be with).  If we want to prevent those men from soliciting — who are, presumably, the ones we want to be preventing — stings will not do it, and neither will most penalties.

If we increase penalties, they will likely never be used (because of the CARD Program and continuation without finding).   And if they are used, it will most likely be on a first-time offender.  How is that fair?

Rather than spend time on a law that will never be effective, I’d like to see a detailed assessment like Buffalo’s.  It would be great to have surveys of arrested johns that describe their motivations, drug use, and fears; it would be equally great to have hard data on recidivism with or without the CARD Program.

I know it’s silly to mention facts and statistics in the face of something that is so irrational it will naturally sail through the City Council…but it’s worth a try, isn’t it?

Scameras and johns

The City of Worcester has likely heard enough from me regarding traffic cameras.

But that won’t stop me from a couple more comments:

1) Both Jo Hart and Konnie Lukes commented on the excellence of the presentation that a traffic camera company gave to the Council four years ago.  I would certainly hope that a salesperson could throw us a good pitch.  It is the job of our elected officials to review the claims of the salespeople, to talk with customers (past and present), and to dig deeper than a Powerpoint and a few handouts.

2) Someone on Telegram.com left a comment about how well Baltimore’s red light cameras have been working.  In fact, they work from beyond the grave!  A deceased police officer signed off on more than 2,000 tickets.  And their speed cameras work so well that they’ve needed to add school zones that are far away from schools.  There are other concerns about speed and red light cameras in Maryland, including inadequate testing for accuracy.  Color me unimpressed.

I would, of course, like to reiterate what Rick Rushton said: this would punish the owner of the car, not necessarily the person who actually had a traffic violation.

Regular readers of this blog know my passion for public works.  There are a great many things that can be done from a traffic engineering perspective to improve safety for both those in cars and pedestrians. 

Despite statements from some councilors and Ms. Hart, I do not believe this is a city full of crazy drivers who blow through red lights. 

Drivers are frustrated because this is a frustrating city to drive in.  As we learned from the latest CMRPC regional mobility study, there are too many people who take quick, one or two stop trips on I-290 because it is too much of a hassle to drive in the city.

Instead of trying to make money from bad intersections, we have an opportunity to save people money (caused by crashes) and solve some of the problems at those intersections. 

In other revenue generating vehicular news, everyone’s favorite gadfly has gotten one step closer in his quest to confiscate the cars of johns who are soliciting prostitutes.

Hartford had tried a similar program fifteen years ago.  Here’s how successful they were:

Once the cases arrived in court, judges often returned the vehicles to their owners. Sometimes the cars were registered in a wife’s name, a parent’s name, or were not fully paid off and were not worth seizing. Other times, the accused was not convicted and the car, by law, had to be returned.

Of dozens of cars it towed, the Hartford Police Department was awarded one: a 1973 Comet.

“And that’s because the guy didn’t contest it. He probably wanted to get rid of it,” said Capt. James Flaherty, commander of the city vice and narcotics division. “Seizing the cars proved more difficult than just hooking the cars and taking them away. I wish it was that easy.”

Easton, PA has also adopted this type of program in 2008, but had to discontinue the program due to legal challenges.  It’s unclear whether they’ve been able to restart their vehicle seizure program.

Los Angeles and some other California communities had implemented similar vehicle seizure programs.  These ordinances were later overturned by the California Supreme Court.

While Portland, OR seems to have had success with its program, it’s unclear how many vehicles are seized from johns, though they do return most vehicles back to offenders.  You may read that the recidivism rate for those who had their cars seized in Portland is an extremely low 1%.  That figure is from a paper written more than a dozen years ago, and the statistics were from 1989-1993.  Only 5% of the cars seized were eventually forfeited, and — though I’ve been looking — I can find no long-term studies on recidivism or the effectiveness of this program.

As you can likely guess, some of the problems with this kind of program are similar to those with red light cameras.

You could be punishing the owner of the vehicle instead of the person who is accused of the violation.  This could be the wife or husband of the john, the john’s employer, a car rental or lease company.

Regarding vehicle seizure for johns, we’d be confiscating something before someone was convicted of a crime.  That makes me about as comfortable as putting a traffic camera company in charge of ticketing people.

And we’re still not clear on what we want. 

In the case of the red light cameras, it’s unclear whether we want safety or revenue.

In the case of seizing vehicles from johns, it’s unclear whether we want to reduce prostitution, reduce street prostitution, or reduce the appearance of prostitution.  Are we trying to shame the johns so that they won’t solicit again?  Scare potential johns from soliciting in the first place?

I cannot be the only one in this city who is becoming increasingly concerned about the emphasis on punishment, and especially on overpunishment.

There seems to be a view among some of our elected officials that a great majority (or at least vast minority) of our citizens are just one red light (or one red light district) away from causing massive social disturbances.  From some of the councilors’ comments yesterday afternoon (Rules) and last night (Council), one would think we were living in one big Rollerball-esque prostitution zone.

I think that if we have issues with certain crimes that we should be proactive about addressing the real causes of those crimes and not try to shame or rip off people.

And I think we really need to start wondering why we keep electing people who think most of Worcester is the scum of the earth.