With pending street, sidewalk and other investments of as much as $32 million ticketed for East Sprague Avenue and adjacent blocks, the Spokane City Council is preparing to act against a persistent problem in the area: prostitution.
A proposed ordinance will allow police to impound the vehicles of “johns” who solicit prostitutes, and the pimps and others who promote the sex trade within an area bounded by Hamilton and Fiske streets, and Interstate 90 and the railroad tracks. Solicitors will be subject to fines of up to $500, plus the costs of towing and impounding. Fines for the other offenses will range up to $2,500.
The impounding papers will specify “prostitution hold.” Not exactly a scarlet letter, but close. Fees would be returned upon exoneration.
The council will give the proposal a first reading Monday night.
Washington has been a leader among the states fighting the sex trade – primarily on the Internet – and a 2013 bill passed unanimously in the Legislature will help cities push harder on the ground.
Business owners along East Sprague have consistently complained about the prevalence of prostitution, and a Spokane Police Department study of contacts and arrests from 2009 to 2014 confirms the trade is concentrated along the avenue all the way to Division Street. Many are concerned that no matter what the city spends on the East University District that encompasses much of the area, customers will be unwilling to visit their shops if they have to walk by prostitutes to reach their doors.
Neighborhoods that do not have a significant prostitution problem, like Hillyard and the Perry District, have experienced a resurgence in investment that has largely bypassed East Sprague. City and community leaders hope the University District north of the tracks will eventually help encourage more activity along Sprague.
A new ordinance will not only suppress prostitution, but the other illicit activity – drugs, theft, etc. – that goes with it. The police department supports the council’s effort.
Although, as written, impoundment may occur only on a second offense, state law says it can apply on the first. The council should seriously consider that option.
Pushing prostitutes out of the East Sprague area may only drive the sex trade to other areas of the city, or underground on the Web, but this is an effort worth pursuing. The state law says 50 percent of fines must be spent on the prevention of prostitution, including education programs for offenders, and providing the spectrum of social services many trapped in the trade need to find a life away from the street.
Would-be violators will have been warned by signs that must be posted informing drivers the area is subject to special penalties.
Those who promote prostitution need to get the message, too.
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