Kensington Prostitutes Targeted

Posted: November 10, 1987

Prostitutes are second only to abandoned cars as the most blatant nuisance on the streets of Kensington.

In the past, getting rid of the prostitutes has proved trickier than getting rid of the cars, police officials say.

When you get rid of an abandoned car, it doesn't come back.

But this week, in the wake of increased pressure from residents, squads of undercover and uniformed police officers will take to the streets of the 24th, 25th and 26th Police Districts of the East Division in a new patrol designed to cripple a thriving sex industry.

It won't be easy. The prostitutes, police say, have a lot of gimmicks for outsmarting them. They time their shifts. They give different names when arrested. After an arrest on a summary charge of obstructing traffic, they are back on the streets in hours.

And, when enforcement heats up, they simply move to a different police district. Often, that's as simple as crossing the street.

"The prostitutes are clever - they figure out the system," says 26th District Capt. Gerald Baker. "It's a dangerous situation. These are not your typical $100-a-night call girls. A lot are habitual drug users. Do they have AIDS yet? Yes.

"The main factor is the people, the kids in the neighborhood," he says. ''They don't need it."


At the 26th Police District headquarters, the officers call it the "Whore Book."

It is a guide to the prostitutes of Kensington, a black loose-leaf binder bulging with the photographs and police records of more than 100 prostitutes.

Page after page, the faces stare out, eyes worn from drugs and fatigue.

Some men look like women; some women look like men. Their records are usually lengthy, jail terms rare.

A few new faces on the streets, police say, and Whore Book II will be born.

Several of them are confirmed AIDS carriers, according to Baker, although police regulations prohibit any official designation. But word gets around, he says.

Before the book, prostitutes would give different names each time they were arrested and then fail to appear in court with impunity. Now, each new one arrested will be photographed, fingerprinted and noted in files under the same name each time, police say.


Although officials are keeping some details of their new plan a secret, they say district-hopping and shift-timing by prostitutes will be a thing of the past: The officers assigned to the new detail will work all three districts, and the squads will work 24 hours a day, Baker says.

"As pressure increased from one district, they'd just move to another district," says East Division Inspector John Donnelly. "The police officers would be standing there, unable to do anything. Unless the officers are involved in a hot pursuit, they cannot cross district lines."

Police officials hope their patrol will lead to more arrests for solicitation - a misdemeanor where bail would be set - rather than obstructing traffic, which is little more than a traffic ticket.

That would mean time in jail, posting bail or both. "We want to hit them in the pocketbook and with their time," Baker says.


Undercover police officers will be dispatched, but they will not be women posing as prostitutes, as was done in a now-abandoned "John Detail" program.

"Putting the females there for the purpose of soliciting Johns doesn't cut it," Baker says. "All the community saw was three more prostitutes on the street. If the John went there and didn't get arrested, all he saw was three more hot numbers on the street. So I discontinued it."

Donnelly says the program will continue as long as the officers involved are not needed elsewhere.

One day last week, Ruth Cooper, a crossing guard at the Brown Elementary School, at Jasper and Sergeant Streets, found herself helping kids cross the street to the tune of two screaming prostitutes banging on a door on Sergeant Street.

"They were standing there screaming and pounding," Cooper says. "It's bad enough you have men grabbing kids; now you have the prostitutes sitting in cars doing it with these men.

"That's ridiculous, especially near a school."


A rally last month at Kensington and Lehigh Avenues - described as the hub of prostitution activity by police - drew about 50 residents. The protesters demanded - and received - a hasty appearance at the rally by Inspector Donnelly, who promised to step up police activity.

The prostitution on the streets, neighbors say, has become too much a part of the fabric of their lives.

Women who live and raise families in the neighborhood say they find themselves mistakenly propositioned by would-be Johns. Men are routinely approached by prostitutes. Children are exposed to lewd behavior, hard-core

drug use and foul language, residents complain.

"I walk my kids to school, and I see a hooker standing in the doorway, stark naked," says Joan Moore, 29, of Lehigh Avenue. "I don't want this for my kids - let alone my husband."

Moore says would-be Johns have repeatedly propositioned her while she has been going through her daily routines: once while she was walking with two young children and another time while on her way to a local delicatessen.

Some residents say they have spent hours "literally sweeping up" hypodermic needles and others tell of afternoons chasing addicts away from their steps with a broom.

"Are we supposed to send our children to school in plastic bags?" says Alice Rogers, 54, a Kensington resident with eight children and 27 grandchildren.

"The prostitutes do their thing right in front of the children on their way to school," Rogers says. "It's the children that are being hurt."

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