VCU graduate Greg Crandall and his wife were living in Chicago’s suburbs in the mid-1990s, with hopes of eventually moving back to the Fan. “I’ve always liked the Fan since my second year of college,” says Crandall.
College pal and future neighbor David Franke warned the couple that housing prices in Richmond were on the rise, and by the time Crandall and his wife made it back to the city in 1998, they could only afford property on West Grace Street.
Already familiar with the area’s problems, namely prostitution, Crandall was reluctant to buy a home along Grace, but the convenience of city living swayed him.
However, the harsh reality of West Grace Street soon settled in, and Crandall became fed up with the circus-like atmosphere on his street corners, what you might call a drag dramedy. Neighbors, including Crandall and others with small children, were finding condoms and syringes in their back yards. Prostitutes were even sitting on neighbors’ stoops.
To combat prostitution, which is on the rise nationally, Crandall has taken matters into his own hands, as have many other neighborhood activists across the country. He mobilized the West Grace Street Association to patrol the area on foot in the wee hours of weekend mornings beginning in May and lobbied for a way to combat cruising johns. His motivator: “I thought about having to come home to a 3- or 4-year-old and explaining that it’s not Halloween [outside].”
But Crandall’s neighborhood is not alone in suffering from problems associated with prostitution. As one neighborhood steps up its efforts, the prostitution just seems to shift elsewhere — Chamberlayne Avenue and Jefferson Davis Highway are two examples. So the question remains: What measures will really get to the root of the problem? Mandatory drug rehab for prostitutes? The airing of convicted prostitutes’ and johns’ names on television (called John TV), as recently proposed by City Councilman Manoli Loupassi? Special sex-ed schools for convicted johns? What about singing words of hope to prostitutes on the prowl, as one North Sider does?
Where the Johns AreAccording to the FBI, the United States recorded an estimated 79,733 prostitution and solicitation arrests in 2002, compared with 37,620 in 2000. In a February 2003 article for the Journal of Sexual Aggression, Donna M. Hughes, professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island, attributes the increase to tolerance. “In the last three decades, prostitution and pornography have become increasingly tolerated, normalized and legitimized, resulting in expansion of sex industries all over the world,” she writes.
Squashing prostitution via the johns could potentially help innocent spouses. During a sting operation this past summer, a vice-unit police officer commented that most of the johns are married and live in the suburbs. (According to a National Health and Social Life Survey, 55 percent of johns are married or cohabiting.) “I don’t see what they [the johns] could get out of it. They’re nasty,” the officer says of the prostitutes.
Fed up with what prostitution brings to a neighborhood, communities all over the country are taking action. Norfolk, for example, has seen a significant decrease in prostitution. In 1995, the city had 324 prostitution and solicitation arrests, compared to 235 in 2003. Norfolk Police Department spokesman Chris Amos says the department made prostitution a top priority by increasing sting operations. Area civic groups also lead patrols. East Ocean View, a Norfolk community that was once ravaged by prostitution, was this year’s Home-A-Rama Real Estate Showcase neighborhood. “That kind of gives you a feel for what’s happened to that part of the city that was once overrun by boarded-up buildings,” Amos says.
Other areas of the country are using the tactic of public embarrassment as a deterrent against prostitution. Residents of Covington, Ky., send out “Dear John” letters to persons convicted of soliciting prostitutes. The hope is that a john’s wife or child will see the postcard.
Residents in Manitoba, Canada, created a Web site where they publish license-plate numbers of cars they see pick up prostitutes (www.geocities.com/wccia/johns) as part of their zero-tolerance attitude to crime.
Last year, the Oceanside Police Department in California wanted to publish names of convicted johns and prostitutes (also a misdemeanor charge in California) in the local daily paper’s classified section, but the North County Times refused. Publisher Dick High says printing the names would be tacky, and it would give a “black eye” to a city that’s made strides to improve its image. Instead, the names are published in the weekly Coast News and repeated each morning on a local radio show.
The Pentagon is even battling prostitution, with a proposed change to the military’s Manual for Courts-Martial that would make patronizing a prostitute an offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a dishonorable discharge.
Cruisin’In August, City Councilman William J. Pantele of Richmond’s Second District, with prompting from the West Grace Street Association, brought a resolution before council to update Richmond’s existing anti-cruising ordinance.
The 1994 city ordinance allowed police to issue traffic tickets to motorists (johns) who pass the same point more than two times in the same direction within a restricted area, punishable by a fine up to $100. To make the ordinance correspond with current state law, council added that motorists can’t pass the point more than two times in the same direction in a three-hour period, between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. The area, as designated by council or the chief of police, must be clearly marked with signs.
On West Grace Street, when Crandall and his neighbors come upon a prostitute (usually transvestites), they stand with them, making sure the prostitutes won’t make any money that night. Most of the prostitutes know they can’t outwait the neighbors, so they walk to the other end of the street, with Crandall and company not far behind.
Crandall has used the flash from a camera to deter the johns as they drive by. On occasion, he says, the johns would stop and yell at him, but nobody has ever gotten violent. “It would be a waste of our time if we only did this once,” Crandall says, adding that in the past, the neighborhood association patrolled the area on an infrequent basis. “It only takes [one weekend of not being out] and one prostitute will come back, and then a dozen,” Crandall says.
After a couple of months of the weekend patrols, some of the prostitutes wised up to what the association was doing, and took to their cars, circling the blocks in their vehicles like the johns – all the more reason that neighbors wanted the anti-cruising ordinance updated.
The prostitutes aren’t as strong in numbers as before (two or less, compared to five or more), but the West Grace neighbors are worried the problem could simply shift back to their street. Crandall is realistic; he knows he can’t rid the city entirely of prostitution. Crandall wants an effective solution because he is afraid his neighbors might get fed up with the area’s problems and leave, recalling some neighbors who moved away recently. “They were exactly like my wife and me, except they had a 2-year-old child, and our son is 3,” he says. “I met them for the first time at their yard sale. You can’t tell me crime didn’t have something to do with [their move].”
Councilman Pantele, who accompanied association members on one of their walks, understands the neighbors’ frustration. “If we can’t solve this challenge, I can’t blame them if they leave. I’d leave,” he says.
Cruising for TroubleDuring the Aug. 4 City Council hearing on the anti-cruising ordinance, some city residents expressed concern that innocent people could be hassled for simply circling the block to look for a parking space. Others, including West Grace’s Crandall, clearly thought it was a good solution. “We the neighbors have the potential to be inconvenienced by this law, and we happen to have faith that the Richmond Police will use their judgment wisely, just as they do in other aspects of their work.” The ordinance passed council that night, with only one vote against it from Councilman Lewis Coates of the Ninth District.
Almost two months after it was enacted, the ordinance was put to the test along West Grace Street on Friday, Oct. 1. That night, Crandall was amazed at how many police were in his neighborhood. “I’ve never seen this many police out here,” he says. An officer on bike patrol told Crandall he was working on his day off. By 1 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 2, one of the anti-cruising signs, which were posted sandwich-board style in the middle of various intersections, had been stolen.
Despite an increased police presence, the potential johns or “cruisers” circled the streets outside of the anti-cruising zones. A white SUV passed, prompting Crandall to say that its driver lived in the Fan and was a known cruiser (the man subsequently flashed an obscene hand gesture at Crandall). Another known cruiser who lives in the area, Crandall says, is on the state’s sex offender Web site. When a Mercedes-Benz with personalized license plates drove by, neighborhood association member Franke commented that he recognized the elderly driver, also a known cruiser, as a customer in the restaurant for which he once worked.
As of Oct. 14, Richmond Police have invoked the anti-cruising ordinance twice, as most of the department has been diverted to tackle violent-crime initiatives. “We have done the anti-cruising initiative two times in the Third Precinct — in the Fan and along Chamberlayne Avenue,” police spokeswoman Cynthia Price writes in a recent e-mail. “There have not been any arrests associated with cruising. However, when applicable we will continue to implement this tool. At this point, our focus is on violence reduction and robbery reduction. We’ll continue to focus on reducing violence until there is a significant decrease, but whenever appropriate we will conduct other initiatives. That is why there have been a few prostitution initiatives this year.”
Councilman Loupassi of Richmond’s First District had doubts that the ordinance would be invoked often enough to have an impact. “If it [the anti-cruising ordinance] gets enforced, God bless you, but I’m not going to hold my breath,” he told Pantele at the August council meeting.
Other TacticsLoupassi and other members of City Council want to kick up the embarrassment factor, which they hope will stop prostitution from shifting from one area to another. “The people who are getting convicted, that needs to be published in a newspaper,” Loupassi said during the same Council meeting. “You should be shamed into not making the community a victim of your problems. Go to Vegas or something, but don’t do it here.”
At the Oct. 25 Council meeting, Loupassi sponsored a paper directing City Manager Calvin Jamison to explore the creation of a television program (John TV) that would air the names and pictures of convicted johns and prostitutes on the city’s cable station. Jamison was given 60 days to report back to Council.
In July 2002, the city of Denver began airing the names and photographs of convicted johns on its public-access channel. The city previously published the information in the weekly Aurora Sentinel. Orlando and Oklahoma City are among the other cities that have John TV.
Next month, judges in Dallas will have the option of sentencing johns to “customer school,” eight-hour classes on sexually transmitted diseases. The schools are already in place in San Francisco, where only 18 of the 2,000 people who attended since 1995 were arrested again.
In addition to the anti-cruising ordinance, Richmond is in the process of installing 12 surveillance cameras as part of the Electronic Neighborhood Watch program to “deter all criminal activity and to provide [the police] with investigative information,” says police spokesperson Cynthia Price. Money for the cameras was approved by council in early 2003, but Police Chief Andre Parker has said vendor negotiations delayed the installation.
With partial funding from the Fan District Association, Councilman Pantele got the city to install six still cameras called FlashCams. When motion is detected (up to 100 feet away), the FlashCam flashes and takes pictures, and it also has the capability to issue a loud digital-voice warning.
Enforcement the Key?Former Councilwoman Reva Trammell agrees that the city needs to go after the johns as well as the prostitutes. “Like a prostitute told me one time, if we didn’t have the johns, we wouldn’t have the business,” Trammell says. Also, prostitutes don’t respond to the same tactics. “Shaming has never done anything for anyone who has nowhere to go,” a Denver prostitute told the Denver Post recently.
Jefferson Davis Highway has long been plagued with prostitution. Trammell says prostitution traffic has increased in the last six months, possibly because of prostitutes being shooed from West Grace Street.
While Trammell is grateful for the anti-cruising ordinance and the proposal for John TV, she says enforcement is key. “Even if they post their names on TV, so what?” she asks, driving through the Eighth District and pointing out places where johns take prostitutes, including dead-end streets near homes with small children. “Are they going to catch them?”
Tommy Powers, who owns Veteran Cab on Jefferson Davis Highway, agrees that the prostitutes aren’t just on the main roads. “The police department needs to know where the hot spots are,” he says.
Some Richmonders, including Pantele and Crandall, would like to see tougher sentences and/or charges for prostitution. Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Micelle Welch is in charge of prosecuting prostitution cases and is forcing prostitutes to serve out suspended jail sentences if they violate their probation. She also is working toward mandatory drug treatment as part of a prostitute’s sentence. (See sidebar on Page 50.)
From Misdemeanor to Felony?For the most part, the General Assembly has been reluctant to make prostitution a felony. “You get a stricter penalty for parking in a bus zone than for prostitution,” Pantele says. “[The police] take [the prostitute] downtown, and a lot of the time the prostitute is back on the street before the cop is.”
In 1998, state Sen. Frederick Quayle, R-Chesapeake, sponsored a bill to make three-time prostitution offenders felons (prostitution currently carries a misdemeanor charge). The senator says one of his localities asked for more tools to combat prostitution, so he supported the bill.
The bill received a 15-0 vote of approval in the Senate Courts of Justice subcommittee Criminal Law/Procedure, but it was killed in the Senate Finance Committee. “Any bill that increases the punishment … has to be reviewed [for cost to the taxpayer] because it is likely to cost more money,” Quayle says, adding that jail time is billed to taxpayers. Welch says she has found that legislators are reluctant to make prostitution or solicitation a felony, possibly because they are unaware of how it affects neighborhoods.
Three-time prostitution offenders in Texas are already convicted as felons. Despite this measure, the state saw an increase in prostitution rates between 2000 and 2002, according to the FBI (6,308 prostitution and commercial vice arrests in 2000 compared to 6,879 in 2002). During the 2004 Wisconsin legislative session, a similar three-time offender bill was filed. The bill, which would have made three-time prostitution offenders felons, punishable by no more than a $10,000 fine and three-and-a-half years in jail, was continued to the 2005 session, which begins next month.
In most states, including South Dakota and Virginia, it is a felony to promote or “pimp” prostitutes or to force someone into a life of prostitution. Police officers are sometimes able to use Virginia’s drug or sodomy laws to charge a prostitute or john with a felony. States such as Colorado and Virginia also make it a felony to engage in prostitution while knowingly having HIV or AIDS.
On the flip side, legislative efforts calling for little to no emphasis on prostitution also exist. In November, Berkeley, Calif., residents voted down a measure known as the Angel Initiative, which would have directed city police to treat prostitution as their lowest priority. The measure also asked city officials to lobby California’s state legislators to decriminalize prostitution. The Angel Initiative, brought to the ballot via more than 2,000 signatures collected by Robyn Few, is named after Angel Lopez, a San Francisco prostitute who was murdered in 1993. Few, who was charged with conspiracy to promote prostitution in 2002, contends the measure would help keep prostitutes safe from violence and enforce workplace protections. According to the FBI, California reported 12,401 prostitution and commercial vice arrests in 2000, compared to 12,257 in 2002.
Not everyone agrees that prostitution should be a priority for the Richmond Police Department.
“I’ve got a solution for you: Make it legal,” Waverly Crawley, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Second Street, told City Council on Oct. 25. “You laugh, but that’s the way they did it in Germany when I was over there, and they taxed them. To me, prostitution is a no-no that’s been going on since the beginning of time.”
Others think prostitution is far from a victimless crime. “Do you think that used condoms and syringes make for a healthy neighborhood?” Pantele says during a September interview. “Maintaining order at the street level is really what public safety is all about. If you don’t feel safe, then we’ve failed.”
United NeighborsThe West Grace Street Association isn’t the only neighborhood that’s actively combating prostitution. Richmond Police’s efforts were diverted this past summer and early fall to focus on violent-crime initiatives, and neighborhoods noticed increased prostitution activity.
Dr. Norma Murdock-Kitt, who heads up the North Side Neighborhood Team, says the police seem to be more present along Chamberlayne Avenue now. Regardless, neighbors want to do their part, including nighttime patrols.
Harris Wheeler heads up the Edgehill Civic Association effort. “We realize that we can do a lot more than the police officers can,” Wheeler says. “The laws are just not cutting it.”
In the 1990s, Wheeler and his wife saw the neighborhood begin to decline. The family with two young children was prepared to move out until Wheeler heard a tape of a Maryland pastor talk about black flight from America’s cities. “I went in my basement and cried for [a few] days,” he says. Wheeler decided if he moved his family to the suburbs, he would be part of the problem, so he stayed.
Wheeler has since begun to organize weekend night walks along Chamberlayne Avenue. Although they haven’t formally worked with the West Grace Street Association, the North Side group is using the same tactic: Make the customers and the prostitutes uncomfortable with their presence. “We’re always talking about the city. Well, we’re the city,” Wheeler says. “The police don’t live in my neighborhood. We can do a lot more than we have been.”
Wheeler understands that the prostitutes and johns will shift to nearby neighborhoods, which is why his association is working closely with other neighborhood groups, including Battery Park and Chamberlayne Court. The Ginter Park neighborhood also has a vehicle patrol, complete with a yellow flashing light, that monitors the neighborhood.
At first, Wheeler’s involvement was fueled by anger, sparked when he was recently awakened at 2:30 a.m. by a prostitute who was repeatedly slamming a car door outside his window. “I was mad,” the South Carolina native says. “The nerve of these people — right on the side of my house!”
Wheeler, a horticulture teacher at the Richmond Technical Center, now fights the problem with his presence, walking his black cocker spaniel and collecting trash along Chamberlayne Avenue. On Saturday, Oct. 23, around 10:30 p.m. several transvestite prostitutes saw Wheeler’s reflective safety vest moving toward them and they quickly crossed the road.
Wheeler also sings to most prostitutes he passes. His melodic, repetitive line is: “Don’t throw away your life.” He sings the tune because, he says, he never knows when the words will stick in someone’s head and change a person’s course.
Wheeler, who on this night is accompanied by a fellow neighbor, uses a mechanical claw and a large plastic bucket to pick up paper plates, beer bottles and other assorted trash outside of an office building. Some nights, he says, there are five or six prostitutes on the corner. Even at 6 a.m. one morning, Wheeler, accompanied by his pastor, saw prostitutes.
Wheeler, who has lived on Seminary Avenue for more than 20 years, says he is fearful that prostitution will lead to other things destructive to his neighborhood. “If you start seeing this in your neighborhood it’s a welcome door … to drug addicts, anything,” Wheeler says.
What’s Next?To make sure prostitution doesn’t shift back to their neighborhood, West Grace Street Association members will continue to patrol their streets. The group recently added a 10 p.m.-to-midnight patrol.
Crandall says that he’s sure petty crimes have gone down in the area since they’ve been walking. For example, the group called the police when they saw an intoxicated college student stealing signs and chairs from people’s lawns and porches.
Patrol attendance has leveled off since the temperatures outside dipped. Because the cruising johns and the prostitutes have subsided in the area for the time being, Crandall says he’s worried his neighborhood and the police will become complacent. Each week he e-mails his neighbors, inviting them to join him. He’s begun to use some creative tactics, including a humorous Top 10 list of why neighbors should come out: No. 10, “Your wife is snoring anyway.”
While Crandall would much rather get some more sleep on the weekends, he has resolved to be vigilant.
“It’s part of my civic duty and I try not to let it affect my personal or business life,” he says. “I’m definitely not an iron man; I just do without the sleep.” His son and unborn child also keep him motivated. “I’m sure I will [have to explain prostitution to my children], but hopefully the problem will be eliminated by then,” Crandall says.
On Watch on GraceOn Sunday, Oct. 17, the West Grace Street Association neighborhood group, including Greg Crandall, his 8-year-old chocolate Labrador, Godiva, and three female neighbors, came upon two transvestite prostitutes around 2 a.m. “We’re with the neighborhood watch group,” Crandall told the individuals as he walked next to them. “We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
With flashlights in hand, Crandall and his neighbors continued to walk with the prostitutes, crossing the street with them whenever the prostitutes tried to avoid them. “Do y’all have a [business] card?” asked the prostitute in tight acid-washed jeans. “Because we need to know what to tell the police when we call in.” Crandall said it’s not uncommon for the prostitutes to threaten to call the police.
Crandall made conversation along the way, as his dog, Godiva, kept in step. “Where are you guys going? Do you live around here?” he asked. One of the prostitutes said she lives on the 1100 block of Grace. “They always say they live on this street,” said Stephanie Jefferson, a computer programmer walking with the neighborhood association that night.
As the group approached Harrison Street, the prostitutes escaped into the Village Café, only to exit out of a side door. About an hour later, one of them was seen on the corner of Lombardy and West Grace. She left after Crandall approached again, but she was seen later that night on Chamberlayne Avenue.
Prosecutor Says Prostitution Cases Need Holistic Approach
Michelle Welch, the deputy commonwealth’s attorney who oversees prostitution prosecution, is tackling johns and prostitutes with the same fervor she unleashes on Richmond’s animal abusers. Welch wants to shut the revolving door on prostitution and solicitation with stricter enforcement of jail time, mandatory drug treatment and community involvement.
In late October, Welch and her team began rounding up prostitutes who violated their parole. While an arrested prostitute’s sentence depends on the presiding judge, a first-time offender typically serves one day in jail with the remaining 89 days suspended. (See chart, Page 76) The suspended time comes with the contingency that the prostitute will not, among other things, disturb the peace or break the law during probation (three years). If the prostitute violates that contract, with perhaps a subsequent arrest, he or she can be ordered to serve out the suspended time. In many cases, prostitutes serve a short sentence, are released from jail, get arrested for committing prostitution again and serve another short sentence. For some reason, Welch says, the prostitutes aren’t made to serve out the suspended time; something that she says will send a clear message on the streets.
A successful arrest takes time and patience, cautiously avoiding the violation of someone’s rights. “Prostitution is illegal, but the ability to associate and move about is a cherished right,” Councilman William Pantele says. One such arrest in August began when the vice unit followed a prostitute on a bike, who was later picked up at the Walgreens on Chamberlayne Avenue by a john in a local contractor’s vehicle. The unit didn’t swarm in to make the arrest until they knew sex was being exchanged for money.