At last night’s monthly community meeting at Mission Police Station, Captain Gaetano Caltagirone addressed an uptick in burglaries, car break-ins and overall crime in the district. But before the floor could open up to the concerns of the citizenry (and their accompanying dogs), Caltagirone announced the initiation of a “Sex Worker Abatement Unit.”
The unit, he said, is already in operation. Upon hearing this, one attendee spoke out in immediate support.
“It’s like night and day,” she said. “Whatever you are doing, please keep it up. It’s becoming like a residential area again.”
Residents living along Shotwell and Capp Streets have long been clamoring for enhanced patrols and police interdiction to stem prostitution on their doorstops.
And at Tuesday’s meeting, Caltagirone said the new unit was formed as a result of the complaints he received last month. The Sex Worker Abatement Unit, he continued, has already registered some arrests. Some 20 officers applied, but only four were selected, he noted.
According to Caltagirone, the unit has arrested “Johns” — men soliciting prostitutes — as well as pimps. Any ensnared sex workers, he said, have been offered services and assistance in getting out of the sex trade. These so-called LEADS — Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion — social programs will be offered instead of the usual arrest and citation process. Rather than a trip in the paddy wagon, one officer said, a car ride to the station and a social-worker visit are offered.
This initiative, he said, was modeled after a pilot program in Seattle.
“Every time we encounter a sex worker, we ask them, ‘Do you have a pimp? Do you want to get out of this business?’” Caltagirone said.
This news was, by and large, well-received by the meeting attendees. A few people did express concerns that renewed attempts at prosecuting and enforcing laws along the two streets would unfairly target low-income people of color. The captain countered that the unit’s arrests covered a “wide range” of solicitors.
Tessa Brown, a Mission resident, pinned the rise of street prostitution on the closures of popular personal websites like Backpage, which ostensibly drove activity into the streets.
“I just wanted to push back at the idea that all neighbors agree that we should be arresting all sex workers and more clients of sex workers,” Brown said.
Instead, Brown suggested that decriminalization of sex work would reduce crime along those streets. Another attendee, Aaron Sunshine, chimed in and suggested the police ease up.
“Let’s just leave the sex workers alone,” Sunshine said.