But even if you support laws against prostitution, this is a pretty awful way to enforce them. True, no one is going to jail. You’re just potentially ruining lives. And as Nick Selby writes at Medium, Martinez is wrong. One needn’t have actually solicited a prostitute to get one of these letters.
Have Ms. Martinez and the Los Angeles City Council taken leave of their senses? This scheme makes, literally, a state issue out of legal travel to arbitrary places deemed by some — but not by a court, and without due process — to be “related” to crime in general, not to any specific crime.There isn’t “potential” for abuse here, this is a legislated abuse of technology that is already controversial when it’s used by police for the purpose of seeking stolen vehicles, tracking down fugitives and solving specific crimes.It is theoretically possible that a law enforcement officer could observe an area he understands to be known for prostitution, and, upon seeing a vehicle driving in a certain manner, or stopping in front of suspected or known prostitutes, based on his reasonable suspicion that he bases on his analysis of the totality of these specific circumstances, the officer could speak with the driver to investigate. This is very uncommon, because it would take a huge amount of manpower and time.The City Council and Ms. Martinez seek to “automate” this process of reasonable suspicion (reducing it to mere presence at a certain place), and deploy it on a massive scale. They then seek to take this much further, through a highly irresponsible (and probably illegal) action that could have significant consequences on the recipient of such a letter — and they have absolutely no legal standing to write, let alone send it. There are grave issues of freedom of transportation and freedom of association here.Guilt by association would be a higher standard.Worse, they seek to use municipal funds to take action against those guilty of nothing other than traveling legally on city streets, then access the state-funded Department of Motor Vehicle registration records to resolve the owner data, then use municipal moneys to write, package and pay the United States Postal Service to deliver a letter that is at best a physical manifestation of the worst kind of Digital McCarthyism.
I’d add one more awful consequence to this policy: It’s essentially stating that there are some neighborhoods where a person’s mere presence is indicative of criminal activity — that the only reason one would visit these areas is to solicit sex for money. Think about what that says to the people who live and work in those areas. It’s also a pretty surefire way to prevent these neighborhoods from ever improving. Why would anyone travel to or through an area designated a “prostitution zone” to, say, offer job training, counseling, medical care or other services if doing so means their name winds up in a database of suspected johns?
The L.A. City Council is still considering the policy. But as the CBS Los Angeles article linked above points out, cities such as Minneapolis, Des Moines and Oakland, Calif., are already sending letters. Just wait until they start trying to take these people’s cars, too.