D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson said yesterday that he personally supports legalization of prostitution but that the current political climate in the city would prohibit such a change in the law.
"Regardless of what you do, prostitution is going to be here. It's been here since time [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and I would like to see prostitution enforced to the level where it does not impact on the number of people - citizens and individual people - to the degree that it does now," Jefferson said.
"I think that if we looked in the area of legalizing it, perhaps we might have a better chance at keeping it at an acceptable level," Jefferson said.
"Is that something you would support?" he was asked.
"Yes, I think I would support that," the chief answered.
Jefferson's remarks were made during a lengthy interview conducted with reporter Paul Henderson of WJLA-TV, Channel 7, parts of which were televised yesterday. The full interview is to be broadcast on the station sometime next month.
In the portion aired yesterday, Jefferson said prostitutes could be controlled better if their actions were restricted to certain areas of the city and if they were required to undergo health inspections.
Jefferson, who was reported to be out of town yesterday, could not be reached for future comment. The television interview was taped earlier this week.
Jefferson was appointed police chief less than a month ago. Yesterday, a spokesman for Mayor Walter E. Washington, who appointed Jefferson, said the mayor did not know until the television remarks were broadcast that Jefferson is in favor of legalized prostitution.
Spokesman Sam Eastman said the mayor is "unequivocally opposed to legalized prostitution" and never had discussed the subject with Jefferson. If such a discussion were to be held, Eastman quoted the mayor as saying, "It would be a short conversation."
Practice of prostitution has provoked increasing concern in some parts of the city, especially downtown where prostitutes walk some streets flagging drivers, stopping pedestrians and even jumping into cars, sometimes assaulting and robbing the occupants.
The city has stringent penalities on the books for soliciting for purposes of prostitution, and more than 3,500 solicitation arrests have been made in the past two years. But prostitution is not a crime in the city, and the City Council is powerless to change that until 1979 when, for the first time, the young home-rule government will be allowed by Congress to amend the portion of the criminal code affecting prostituion.
In the Thomas Circle area of north-west Washington, where prostitution traffic is at its heaviest in the city, 20 prostitute-related murders were reported during 1976 and 1977.
Police officials say D.C. Superior Court judges have made the city a notorious haven for prostitues by imposing only token fines and unsupervised probation to women arrested for solicitation.
Council member Douglas E. Moore (D-at large), who is running for Council chairman, introduced five bills yesterday designed to crack down on prostitution and pornography.
One of those measures would make easier the arrest of suspected prostitutes by making it illegal for anyone with a recent solicitation conviction to stop or beckon to cars repeatedly without good reason.
Moore, who proposed no legislation during all of 1977, also introduced bills that would give the city a more strict legal definition of obscenity and would charge massage parlors $10,000 annual licensing fees.
Moore proposed changing zoning laws to force stricter controls on establishment of sex-oriented businesses near residences and religious and educational institutions. He also introduced laws affecting sale of pornographic materials to juveniles.
Moore said his proposals would tighten controls on public display of pornographic literature.