Council targets oldest profession with prostitution-free zones

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By Jenny Hartley

Prostitutes will have to peddle elsewhere if County Council declares the Brooklyn, Memorial Park and Midway areas as prostitution-free zones.

County Administrator Steve Willis said he's spoken with Sheriff Johnny Cauthen and Chief Deputy Barry Faile about declaring those areas, where several prostitution arrests have been made in the past, as prostitution-exclusion zones.

The city of Charlotte has prostitution-exclusion zones, Willis told council members.

Council discussion

According to a proposed ordinance, a person is subject to exclusion from any public right-of-way within a prostitution-exclusion zone for 90 days if that person has been arrested for engaging in prostitution, aiding or abetting prostitution, forcing someone into prostitution or soliciting a minor for the crime.

"It covers the pimp, the lady, the man, everything," Willis said.

After the 90-day ban, the person charged may be allowed back into the prostitution-free zone, if he or she is not arrested again. If the person is arrested again during that time period, he or she may be charged with trespassing and banned for a year from the zone.

"Mr. Chairman, it is interesting that all three areas are in my district," Councilman Fred Thomas noted.

Thomas said while he does not approve of prostitution, he thinks the ordinance could just move prostitution to another part of the county.

"What's the sense in that?" he said.

Councilman Wesley Grier, who grew up in the once-thriving Brooklyn mill village, said some older people live there because they can't afford to move anywhere else. Grier said they need assistance ridding the neighborhood of prostitution and other crimes.

"A lot of people are stuck there," Grier said. "They need help."

Councilman Bryan Vaughn wondered if there were enough arrests to justify making a new law regarding prostitution. He said he wanted to see arrest numbers from the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office before second reading of the ordinance.

Council voted 6-1 in favor of first reading. There was some debate as to which council member would vote in opposition so it would be kept off the consent agenda for next week's meeting. By keeping it off the consent agenda, council will discuss the measure when it comes up for second approval.

With a sheepish grin, Council Chairman Rudy Carter raised his hand in opposition.

Sheriff: Crime-free zone justified

Sheriff Johnny Cauthen said he doesn't want to encourage crime to move anywhere else in the county, but does believe the county's prostitution problems warrant a crime-free zone.

"The stats are there," Cauthen said Tuesday. "I think it's a good idea. Prostitution-free zones have worked in other areas. It's a starting point. It's not the complete answer, but it will help."

Many residents may not realize the problem, but Cauthen said officers could go to the Brooklyn area and likely make prostitution arrests on any day or night. The crime stems from rampant drug use, mostly crack cocaine, and there are many repeat offenders.

"These girls have got such a bad drug habit – that's 99 percent of the problem," Cauthen said. "That's the only way they can get drugs, is to sell themselves.

"I feel sorry for the girls. But I also feel sorry for the elderly people who have lived down there most of their lives and can't afford to move anywhere else. They don't get any peace."

Council will consider second reading of the ordinance at next Monday's meeting. Ordinances require three readings to be approved.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1151.