Even when Gregory Dicum returns home early on Friday or Saturday night, it’s hard to miss the scantily clad women working the street corners outside his house. On a recent weekend night, the Capp Street resident awoke to a woman screaming, “You’re the worst pimp I have ever had!”
He has found it hard to shield his son from the recent resurgence in prostitution on Capp. One weekend morning the three-year-old pointed out a used condom in front of his home and asked his dad for an explanation.
“Just go down around 20th and Capp streets on Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see six or seven hookers standing around at that intersection,” Dicum said. “It just came out of nowhere.”
Well, maybe not out of nowhere.
Historically the area has been the Mission’s most notorious prostitution hot spot. But until the last few months, when neighbors started to notice an upsurge, prostitution around Capp had seemed to be declining.
Capp Street residents have been quick to organize in response to the increased activity. Dicum and others have been in contact with the San Francisco Police Department and Mission Station, as well as Supervisor David Campos. Dicum is circulating a petition online and in person that he plans to present at the April 24 community meeting at Mission Station.
“We find it unacceptable that we are woken up at night by screaming hookers, that we are endangered by the reckless driving of their customers and associates, that we have to step over used condoms in the morning with our children, and that we feel a sense of menace when we are walking home at night,” reads a section of the petition.
Mission Station isn’t taking the upsurge in prostitution lightly. Police have responded with an increased presence of patrol cars, as well as “under cover operations,” said Lt. Sean O’Leary. According to the SFPD’s Crime Incidents Map, there were five reported incidents of prostitution in February between 18th and 20th on Capp Street.
“It’s always been there,” O’Leary said. “Our goal is to curb it or displace it. We’re not going to make it go away entirely, and I would be a fool to say that we are.”
Not all neighbors are convinced the police are doing enough. Warren Spicer, who has lived at Capp and 20th for 13 years, has noticed prostitutes hiding on his stairs or behind the bushes in his front yard. But it was when he noticed pimps loitering outside his home that he started to feel unsafe and called the non-emergency police line. He was left on hold, he said, and finally hung up in frustration.
“Any increased presence of police certainly hasn’t been proportional to the increase in prostitution,” Spicer said. “Especially when there are pimps out there. The measured response has been inadequate.”
While David, who has lived at Capp and 20th for eight years, doesn’t feel that the increase in prostitution has made the neighborhood unsafe, he is frustrated with what has become the regular weekend scene. Sometimes he notices prostitutes still wandering the street when he wakes up around 5:30 a.m.
“It just sucks that it’s on my street, in front of my house,” he said.
In a district that already has significant crime, Mission Station can only dedicate so many resources to curbing prostitution, police said. The problem usually occurs late at night when Mission Station has less staff on call, according to O’Leary. And prostitution is a misdemeanor, he said, meaning police must respond to more serious crimes, such as a robbery in progress, before they can respond to a report of prostitution.
But Supervisor Campos said it is crucial for the police department to act before the prostitution escalates even further.
“Any time there is an increase in crime, you always worry about escalation,” Campos said. “It’s important for the police department to respond quickly to prevent escalation and to make sure all the officers at Mission Station are aware of the situation, so it doesn’t spread.”
Of particular worry to the Capp Street residents are the pimps that appear to accompany these new prostitutes, and a sense that the prostitutes are coming from other neighborhoods or even other cities to work Capp Street. “It’s totally organized crime and human trafficking,” Dicum said.
Dicum has noticed Capp Street mentioned on online message boards as a hot spot for prostitution, and worries that unless police address the problem promptly, more customers will come looking for it in his neighborhood.
One April 2 comment posted on myRedBook.com, which is advertised as a “premier adult entertainment ommunity,” reads: “On Thursday night, there were more girls than you could count. I walked up to Capp and 20th and went ‘eenie menie miney hoe.’”
O’Leary acknowledged that the upsurge in prostitution could lead to more serious crimes or violence, such as territorial disputes between pimps or crimes against prostitutes.
But it’s too early to tell whether police efforts are working, O’Leary said. He asked the community to continue to call when they see incidents of prostitution, so Mission Station can devote the necessary resources to squelching the resurgence.
“We’re doing the best that we can to combat it,” O’Leary said. “But there is crime throughout the district that we need to address. We can’t just throw all our eggs in one basket.”