A recent resurgence in prostitution on Capp Street brought out dozens of people to the monthly police community meeting on Tuesday and triggered a lengthy conversation in front of Captain Robert Moser.
Some residents at the meeting complained about the noise and used condoms they find on the street, and asked for an increase in police presence, while other residents and advocates for sex workers argued that arresting prostitutes isn’t the solution. Most agreed that a conversation needs to happen to clear tensions between residents and sex workers.
Gregory Dicum, who recently spoke to Mission Loc@l about an increase in prostitution on 20th and Capp streets, presented a letter and a petition with 215 signatures to Moser on Tuesday, demanding more police patrols in the area.
(If you see a question below, answer it to read the rest of the article. What’s this?)…
“How many condoms do I have to pick up on my stoop in the morning?” Dicum asked.
More patrols are the solution, Dicum said.
Some residents, such as Monique Moro, who has lived at 20th and Capp streets for 45 years, agreed.
“It’s never been as bad as now,” Moro said. “I never sleep between 2 and 4 a.m. any more.” She explained that her bedroom is right above a corner where prostitutes solicit clients and cars drive by at night.
The tensions between residents and prostitutes aren’t new. The area has long been the neighborhood’s most notorious prostitution hot spot. But until the upsurge in the last few months, prostitution had been on the decline.
When former captain Greg Corrales took over the station in late 2009, Moro came to a community meeting to tell him about the problem, she said. He increased the number of patrols, and that resulted in fewer prostitutes on the block.
Now that fewer officers patrol the area, they’re back, she said.
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to handle it if you don’t attack it now,” Moro told Moser.
“We’ve made 80 arrests this year,” Moser said, referring to arrests on Capp Street. “I want to try to double that.”
Others disagreed that increasing patrols would solve the issue.
“Who are you arresting?” a person in the crowd asked. “Is it the prostitutes, the pimps, or the Johns?”
These terms are part of the problem, some in the audience said.
In a letter addressed to Moser, Dicum read, “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.”
“Could you not call them hookers?” asked a resident in the audience.
Seeing used condoms on the street should make you think, “Hurray, people are having safe sex,” a woman in the audience said.
Using terms such as “hookers” to describe hard-working sex workers is condescending, representatives of the Sex Workers Outreach Program said. If you’re trying to have a conversation to deal with issues such as noise and littering, they said, the first step should be to show respect.
“I consider sex workers to be my neighbors,” said Stephany Ashley, the programs director at St. James Infirmary, an organization that provides health care and social services to sex workers and adult entertainers.
“When you arrest a sex worker, what does it do for her chance to get another job in the future?” Ashley asked.
“I want you to sleep at my apartment and see what’s it like,” Moro said. “This is the first time that I want to move,” She added that the noise makes her life “literally unlivable.”
“I would be happy to come stay at your house if you let me,” said Starchild, a sex worker who works mostly at clients’ homes.
Decriminalizing means fewer people will work on the street, Starchild added.
Dicum and other residents agreed.
“Just the uniform presence would be good, you’d act as a scarecrow,” Dicum said.
“I’d love to have a cop on every corner, but unfortunately I can’t,” Moser said, adding that budget cuts mean he has fewer officers to work with.
“I have nothing personal against them,” Moro said. “It’s sad. Who says, ‘When I grow up I want to be a prostitute’?”
“I don’t think anybody chooses to be a prostitute,” another resident said.
Some in the audience, including sex worker Kitty Stryker, disagreed, saying that they chose this profession.
A former Nike Marketing employee, she decided to become a sex worker, and works mostly with customers with disabilities, such as Asperger’s syndrome. Her job allows her to help people, she explained.
“This is a citywide dialogue,” Moser said, adding that the conversation should come to an end because the meeting was running past its scheduled time.
While there are fewer officers patrolling the area, Moser said, undercover operations are still going on and plainclothes officers are walking the streets. Being creative with your resources is the way you work around bugdet cuts, he said.
“We have to make do with what we have,” he said.