Prostitutes Venture Into Residential Communities

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2007

Deborah Shepard watches from her kitchen window as the prostitutes flirt, strut, flash and strike business deals along busy Eastern Avenue. On any given day, she sees three or four on the corner by her house, desperate for quick cash.

Sometimes, D.C. police show up, pushing the activity over to the Maryland side of the street, which forms the D.C.-Prince George's County line. But usually, Shepard said, she sees a scene of uninterrupted commerce, with johns circling in cars and prostitutes looking for opportunities. Farther up the street, the activity usually is the same, she said, with two or three prostitutes lingering day or night outside a liquor store.

The prostitution trade, long centered downtown, has increased in recent years in several neighborhoods across the city, police and residents said. Prostitutes often meet johns on street corners, at bus stops or outside convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. Then they head out to have sex in nearby alleys and parks or on quiet streets -- sometimes even back yards.

The Washington Post reviewed eight months of solicitation cases filed this year -- covering January through August -- and found pockets of trouble in the Brentwood, Deanwood and Trinidad areas of Northeast Washington, along Georgia Avenue NW and in the southernmost parts of the city. All told, police brought charges in more than 750 cases during that period.

Residents have been pressuring police to act, and authorities stepped up enforcement last summer.

Shepard, 44, has lived in the Fairmont Heights neighborhood in Maryland for two years. She said that she has seen an increase in prostitution and that it frightens and unnerves her as she walks to and from nearby Metro and bus stops.

"This is my line in the sand," she said. "I don't always feel safe. You should feel safe in your own neighborhood."

Robert Contee started a crackdown this year after taking over as commander of the city's 6th Police District, which includes neighborhoods along the border in Northeast and Southeast Washington. His officers patrol Eastern Avenue and other streets, monitor known prostitutes and their customers, and regularly conduct sting operations posing as prostitutes and johns.

On a typical weeknight, Contee said, about two dozen prostitutes are working along Eastern Avenue. There are more on weekends.

The police department divides the city into patrol service areas, or PSAs. From January through August, prosecutors pursued 138 solicitation cases in PSA 602, the Eastern Avenue area that includes Deanwood. The number of cases was larger than anywhere in the city except in the downtown and Logan Circle areas.

"If you're out there and prostituting, you are going to jail," Contee said during a recent weekend sting. "If you're a john and you're coming here for sex, you're going to jail. That's the bottom line."

Despite the tough talk, Contee acknowledged that the arrests seem to have only a slight impact on curbing prostitution, noting that there remains no shortage of people to arrest during monthly stings and weekly raids. If the problem did move at all this summer, he said, it was just into Maryland.

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