Sometimes, I just don't know what to make of our City Council. Yesterday, they passed an anti-prostitution law which they themselves acknowledge is unconstitutional and a surefire bet to be challenged in court.
Under the ordinance, effective within five days, any officer may arrest a "known prostitute" -- someone convicted of prostitution within the last year -- for loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution, demonstrated by enticing, soliciting or procuring someone.
"This ordinance makes it a crime for looking like you want to proposition someone for sex," said Annette Lamoreaux, East Texas regional director for the American Civil Liberties Union.
"In this country, we only arrest people for committing a crime, not for looking like they are about to commit a crime."
Lamoreaux said her office will decide whether to file a lawsuit immediately or wait for someone to be arrested and seek a plaintiff, adding that council was irresponsible for passing the law based on political expediency.
It is not just the act of prostitution that affects neighborhoods, said Paula Parshall, a member of Northline's Super Neighborhood, but also its side effects.
"Prostitution brings other crimes into our communities. It causes a deterioration of our neighborhoods. It knows no boundaries," she said.
I admit, it's possible this has been tried and has been insufficient. The article gives no indication. A search of the Chronicle archives turns up some interesting stuff, though. On February 20, there was an article about the "storefront" police department in the Independence Heights, and it mentioned one of the anti-prostitution strategies that the officers there use:
Instead of simply arresting a single drug dealer, the [Differential Response Team]-trained officers now look at the overlapping crimes to connect the transporters, buyers and owners of the house or apartment used for illicit business, he said.
Rather than arrest a prostitute, [Sgt. Frank] Escobedo and his officers will spend more time tracking down the owner of the rent-by-the-hour motel the prostitute operates from. If the owners are not cooperative in helping reduce the illegal trade, officers will look into electrical or plumbing violations with which to eventually shutdown the operation, he said.
"I'm at my wit's end; they need to do something to stop this," said Amanda Augustine. "Maybe the police can do more undercover sting operations or investigations."
Augustine said prostitutes and johns will often do their business in or near an abandoned 18-wheeler trailer in a field behind her house. She said it was distasteful to see the same women walking up to the same cars at all hours along Airline between Crosstimbers and the North Loop.
Dallas' law has been on the books since 1976, and [HPD Captain David] Cutler said it has been successful in reducing prostitution.
Houston's legal department drafted a similar ordinance at the city council's request but has warned members that, if passed, it could be overturned because of possible civil rights violations.
Annette Lamoreaux, the East Texas Regional Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, made it clear during Thursday's public safety committee meeting that her organization would fight it.
"Any criminal defense lawyer worth their salt is going to run a truck through this," she said. "Don't be lulled into a sense of security that because the Dallas law is on the books, that this will go unchallenged."