Gascon Defends Plan to Post Photos of Sex Customers. Will DJs Be the Big Winners?

Police Chief George Gascon
San Francisco already has an award-winning, nationally imitated "John School" that tries to re-educate first time offenders caught in prostitution stings. What's more, the program was lauded by an in-depth Department of Justice Analysis.

Now, police chief George Gascon is advocating a different tactic to combat prostitution: Posting photographs of arrested sex customers online.

Creating a gallery of johns is a time-honored policy among police departments. Among others, Chicago has been doing it since 2005, and Saint Paul since the late 1990s.

The popular tactic has occasionally backfired. A Witchita, Kansas police official told SF Weekly that their department stopped posting photos of prostitutes and their customers last spring, after a local radio station "abused" the information as part of a comedy routine on their morning show.  

The SFPD press office told SF Weekly that they haven't heard much of a reaction either way about the proposed gallery of johns. And we have no news on how the city's morning radio shock jocks might behave.  

Gascon, meanwhile, said he's been getting positive feedback. "The responses from community members, businesses -- I think people are really excited about using this as a possible tool," Gascon told us.

Gascon praised the John School, officially called the First Offenders Prostitution Program. "We'll not only continue them, but enhance the program," he told us. But he said re-education wasn't going to work with every offender.

"Look, we're trying to put as many tools in the box as we can," he said, adding "It's not one approach fits all. There are some people who are not going to be ashamed when you put them on the Web and say they've been soliciting prostitutes."

The johns gallery is part of Gascon's approach to addressing a rise in street-level prostitution and drug-dealing in Polk Street and Russian Hill, which has sparked complaints from the neighborhood.

The directors of SAGE, the nonprofit that runs the John School, declined to comment on whether Gason's proposal of posting shaming photographs of sex customers would complement their educational program or undermine it.  

Under the existing program, first-time johns can choose to attend a day-long seminar on the darker sides of the sex industry rather than being prosecuted. The hefty fee they pay for the session goes, in part, to fund outreach programs for underage girls and women involved in sex work. The fee also pays for police sting operations and funds the John School itself. The aforementioned 2008 study sponsored by the Department of Justice found that the John School was a cost-effective way to reduce recidivism.

In a non-committal press release sent to SF Weekly, SAGE executive directors Francine Braae and Allen Wilson merely reiterated the successes of their 15-year program and wrote, "We look forward to working with Chief Gascon on improving the effectiveness of FOPP."

No doubt the city's morning radio shock jocks feel the same way. 

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