Cat-and-Mouse Game Features New Tricks

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010; 6:26 PM

This article originally ran on Feb. 7, 2002.

The red and blue flicker of police lights flooded 15th and M streets NW. Instantly, the night air filled with beeps as women teetering on four-inch heels brought a chorus of cell phones to life.

Barely clad, they were being arrested for soliciting for prostitution on this bitter January night. The phone calls were to their pimps. In minutes, other prostitutes in downtown Washington scattered to new hot spots farther west and in far Northeast. The game of cat-and-mouse had begun.

"As much as new technology helps us, it helps the prostitutes more," said acting Sgt. Mark Gilkey, head of the D.C. police department's prostitution unit, "and we just have to keep adjusting our strategy to try and stay ahead of them."

In recent months, the sex industry has moved westward, adopted new technology and gone mobile. Traffic is up. Arrests are increasing. The typical prostitute is younger and often part of an East Coast network that moves from city to city, police said. On that route are New Jersey, Knoxville, Tampa and Miami. After a few months, the same women may well be back in the District.

Prostitution arrests have spiked since last year. December brought the largest number of winter arrests in several years. Cell phones, the Internet and an increasing reliance on luxury vehicles as mobile "offices" are factors that keep Washington's sex industry just beyond the police department's grasp.

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