Johns and pimps on Spokane’s East Sprague Avenue now face more than jail time if cops catch them in the act – their cars will be impounded.
This week, the Spokane City Council unanimously approved new authority for police to seize the vehicle of someone arrested for patronizing a prostitute or promoting prostitution. On top of costs associated with impoundment, towing and storing the vehicle, violators could be fined $500, according to state law.
The expanded authority is specific to the area surrounding East Sprague, which has many more prostitution-related calls and incidents than any other part of the city.
Most of the 18 people who testified to the council on the proposed rule were in favor of the expanded authority, though a few said it would simply displace an activity that “goes back to Biblical times.”
Erin Williams Hueter, director of advocacy and prevention programs at Lutheran Community Services, supported the change but was unsure if it would help.
“The truth is, we really don’t know what kind of impact this will have,” she said. “We have no way of knowing if this will drive prostitution into more secluded areas for private meetings.”
Jennifer Hansen, with the Spokane Regional Health District, said the new rule “partially addressed” the problem of “johns in the neighborhood.”
“Women shared stories with me of not being able to work in their yard without being propositioned for sex,” she said. “Others would say they couldn’t walk to the store or any of the restaurants without cars circling the block asking them if they need a ride. … There are predators out there, and they’re looking for people they can control and make money off of.”
According to Spokane police, the Sprague area had 41 “prostitution incidents” in the past five years, out of a total of 105 such incidents citywide.
East Sprague also had many more prostitution-related calls for service, which don’t necessarily lead to arrest or contact with a suspect, during the same five-year span. With 317, East Sprague accounted for almost half of all such calls citywide.
The area affected by the proposed change in law in the East Central neighborhood is between the Hamilton Street overpass and Fiske Street, and the railroad tracks and Interstate 90. State law requires the city to post signs declaring the area as one of “high prostitution activity.”
When council members spoke, Councilman Mike Fagan brought up the discussion from 2013 about “bikini baristas” and suggested Council President Ben Stuckart was being hypocritical.
At the time, after Fagan proposed a law to compel scantily clad baristas to wear more clothing, Stuckart argued against the proposal, saying, “I didn’t get elected to legislate values.” The proposal failed.
“Our council president made the statement, as he was looking at me: The government is not going to be your morality police,” Fagan said Monday. “Thank you so very much for spearheading this particular effort. I don’t know what it was that touched your heart and changed your mind.”
Stuckart replied that “bikini baristas and prostitution are very different things,” and noted that the prostitution issue was brought to his attention by the neighbors and business owners in the area.
“If you go out there at dusk, you can see the problem,” Stuckart said. “Instead of punishing the sex workers, we need to be going after the johns that are using those services.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter