Police Chief Now Says First-Time Johns Won't Be Publicly Shamed

Categories: Crime
Umberto Marin
Is this Plan B?
The problem with San Francisco is that people come here to do stuff they think they can't get away with at home. Prostitutes from South Carolina, for instance.

This was police chief George Gascon's take,  expressed at a community press conference this afternoon regarding the police department's nascent prostitution enforcement operation in the Russian Hill and Polk Street neighborhoods.

Two weeks into the operation, police officials said, they have arrested 36 female prostitutes and 15 johns, almost all of whom hail from outside the city. (The police have not observed any male prostitutes in the area, Lieutenant Tom Cleary of Vice Crimes noted.) Two of the prostitutes were from Los Angeles, two from Las Vegas, one from San Diego, and one, oddly enough, from South Carolina. Others were from Berkeley, Oakland, Vallejo, and Sacramento. All but one of the johns were from outside San Francisco -- but none of them had made the trek from South Carolina. 

Gascon repeatedly blamed San Francisco's reputation for permissiveness, and said the police crackdown would force prostitutes, pimps, and men looking for sex to reevaluate the risk of what they're doing. As part of the crackdown, Gascon said,  police may publicly post photographs of johns -- an idea he bandied about earlier. In a clarification, Gascon today said this punishment would apply only to men or women who already have a prostitution charge on their records.

"We want to leave those more embarrassing moments for people who do not get it," Gascon said. "It will not be intended for first-time offenders."

This is a revision of Gascon's earlier plan for a gallery of johns, and one that seems designed to minimize conflict with San Francisco's much-imitated "John School," which is run by a local NGO. Last week, we wondered whether Gascon's shame tactics would interfere with the John School  -- aka First Offenders Prostitution Program -- a one-day seminar for first-time johns that was praised by a Department of Justice report for reducing recidivism. 

Since only a small percentage of johns are repeat offenders -- only one of the 15 johns arrested in the police operation thus far has a prior offense, Cleary said this afternoon. This portends that San Francisco's johns gallery seems likely to be small, and not, as we speculated, tempting fodder for shame-game radio DJs.

A police plan for towing johns' cars is still in the works, however, as is a plan to bring both prostitutes and johns in front of community courts.  

As the television cameras rolled this afternoon, police officials, three representatives from neighborhood associations, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and Supervisor David Chiu all lauded the collaborative nature of the prostitution initiative.

It's not the first time the police have cracked down on prostitution in the Russian Hill and/or Polk Street neighborhoods. Two years ago, a gunfight between two alleged pimps at the corner of Pine and Larkin Streets sparked community outrage; 24 rounds were fired, and bullets whizzed through apartment windows and into nearby cars, Northern Station's Captain Ann Mannix noted at the conference. The police stepped up enforcement for a while -- but, as Gascon noted, high levels of arrests in a single area aren't sustainable.  

"We certainly do not have enough vice cops to be working this area every night for a long period of time," Gascon said. "We have a very large world of crime and a very small universe of police resources."

Photo   |   Umberto Marin via Jaunted.com

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