Unlike a metropolitan red-light district with women on streets soliciting sex, areas such as College Park are seeing a new wave of prostitution.
“Prostitutes are no longer walking up and down the street,” said Maj. Robert Brewer, the District 1 commander for the Prince George’s County police. “They’re checking into hotels, going online and posting an ad and getting dozens of phone calls.”
After a major county police operation in College Park, which led to the arrest of more than 80 individuals for their alleged involvement in prostitution from Aug. 1 through 3, the City Council and District 1 police officers are working with area hotels to further change the area’s reputation as a prostitution hot spot.
Brewer said the three-day, undercover operation was conducted by responding to online ads, meeting prostitutes at hotel rooms and making an arrest. Police also posted fake ads, had officers pose as prostitutes, and when suspects arrived at a hotel room, arrested them.
When detectives spoke with several arrested suspects, Brewer said police learned College Park is known throughout the East Coast as a place to engage in prostitution because it is a safe community with a lot of hotels, and there is not much scrutiny when checking into area hotels.
College Park has one of the largest concentrations of hotels in Prince George’s County, given its density and proximity to the University of Maryland, College Park, Brewer said. He noted that prostitution is a prevalent issue throughout the entire county and region.
Brewer said the police department is sending letters to hotel managers and corporate offices to notify them of the sting and ask them to alter some of their management practices. Police have asked College Park officials to also send letters.
“A common time for [prostitution] is during lunch hour, so we are recommending, since most rentals are for one day, no check-ins until 4 p.m. and check-outs must be by 11 a.m.,” Brewer said.
The recommendations are for advice only — hotels are not penalized for not following them.
Brewer said a large amount of prostitution is done during the day because men soliciting prostitutes can easily get away on their lunch breaks from work, as opposed to leaving their homes at night.
City Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said he is appreciative of the police efforts and eager to speak to area hotels.
“This is great to address a much needed, serious concern in our community,” he said. “This is also timely, not just because of the sting, but because of a number of new hotels in the city coming in the next couple of years.”
City economic development coordinator Michael Stiefvater said there currently are 10 existing hotels within city limits, and about two more are in the works.
He noted the construction of a Best Western on U.S. 1 that is set to open in the spring, and said there has been talk of several others along the corridor — a TownePlace Suites by Marriott approved in 2010 is addressing zoning issues, and there’s discussion of a hotel to replace the former Koons Ford dealership.
“Clearly, the [university] is a magnet for hotels given the events going on and the parents visiting their children,” he said. “We also have a Metro stop going straight to downtown, so I’m sure that attracts hotels as well.”
Brewer said the county police are constantly investigating the issue of prostitution, not just in College Park, but throughout the county. He said police will continue to check in on existing hotels to see if such acts are still being done.
Calls to several College Park-area hotels were not immediately returned.