Spokane police for the first time used a new city law aimed at discouraging prostitution along East Sprague Avenue.
Officers arrested three men Wednesday night suspected of attempting to patronize a prostitute and towed cars belonging to two of them.
Spokane police officers conducted the sting operation along a section of Sprague recently designated by the Spokane City Council in January as an area of “high prostitution activity.” The area was posted with signs warning that the cars of those caught patronizing prostitutes would be towed.
One of the decoy officers was standing in front of a building with a “See Something? Say Something” sign in every window, said Sgt. Mike McNab. The signs encourage people to call Crime Check with tips about prostitution activity.
The enforcement effort seems to be having an effect already, police said. The number of tips is up significantly in the area, with more received since March 4 than in the previous four months combined.
The sting lasted about six hours.
“The first two hours, I was beginning to wonder if we were going to get any arrests,” McNab said.
Police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said she recently learned that prostitution arrests are up in Missoula and many of the women arrested have been giving Spokane addresses.
East Spokane Business Association Vice President Tara Brown said business owners and residents who live in the area west of Fiske Street are happy with the increased enforcement.
“The number of girls we see on the street has been reduced,” she said.
Some were worried that the prostitutes would simply move a mile or two down the road.
“We never guessed it would be two states away,” she said.
The men, if convicted, will have to pay a $500 fine, plus pay normal towing fees in order to get their cars back. Money collected from the fees will be donated to programs that assist sex trafficking victims.
The third man was not the registered owner of the car he was driving, and the car was not impounded. McNab said he isn’t concerned that the nonregistered owner exception to the impound rule will lead to more people borrowing cars to use in their illegal activity.
“People patronizing prostitutes are probably not putting that much thought into it,” he said.
This is the first time police have towed cars belonging to men involved in prostitution. More stings will be conducted in the future, McNab said.
“If we do this again and get zero arrests, that means we’ve been successful.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.