continued But why such concentration on the lowest rungs of prostitution? What about the sophisticated, equally illegal call girl organizations?
"The [police] department had a study conducted by Luth Research Inc., [a local market research group]. They conducted a survey of several hundred citizens of San Diego. And the consensus of this survey was that these citizens all realized that the potential for prostitution [among] massage, holistic health practitioners, and escort services, was very high. Yet they weren't as concerned about that type of prostitution activity. Because they felt these acts were taking place in private, out of the realm of the public view. The only reason the vice unit maintains any type of contact with those types of businesses [is that] there's always the potential for a more organized type crime syndicate running that type of operation."
The most social harm comes from the streetwalkers, Duncan believes. "The vice unit gets calls on a regular basis from mothers concerned about the welfare of their children when they go to school in the morning and there's discarded used prophylactics on the ground, or they're blocked by a car and they see two people involved in a sexual act.... Prostitution is not a glorious type of activity. Normally it takes place in a car on the street."
And along with prostitutes come pimps and the drugs they push on their prostitutes. "I don't care what they say, pimps are vicious, brutal people who demean the women that work for them," Duncan says. "The prostitutes themselves are the biggest victims of the crime."
That doesn't mean he believes their stories. "As a young police officer I was told by a senior police officer who trained me, 'There are two people that you absolutely never trust when they're talking to you: one is a prostitute, the other is a heroin addict.' "
Duncan has been a cop for 31 years, 26 years with SDPD. He was inspired by beat officers who walked the streets outside his father's house in City Heights. "I thought it was a pretty exciting-looking job. I guess I just liked the way they treated me. I think that our agency has now gone back to that era where the officers are more neighborhood-oriented. That's a big factor in police philosophy throughout the nation."
It's certainly a big factor for Duncan's successor, Lt. Sarah Creighton, 36. Sitting cross-legged on the carpet of the fifth-floor office Duncan vacated, she's sorting out police manuals and municipal codes. A blue bullet-proof vest hangs on the back of a chair. This is her second day.
She hasn't had a lot of vice experience yet but has become a true advocate of the community-based self-policing of prostitution. She scored a recent success in City Heights.
"We were able to get four restraining orders [in September last year] against about 80 prostitutes. It's a civil action. The community had to be involved in it. At this time those prostitutes are prohibited from being anywhere within the zones where the restraining orders are. And that's for a three-year period. That was a major win for the community and a major win for us, because unfortunately there's not a whole lot that we can do with prostitution unless we see it."
Creighton knows the neighborhoods where prostitution thrives. "I grew up in the ghetto in every community that I lived in. [My mother was a] single parent, disabled, on welfare. She was a diabetic, allergic to insulin. And she contracted hepatitis in Vietnam. She was there rescuing orphans. She's since passed away. She was a remarkable woman. I'm sure I got my gumption from her. But we were very poor. I grew up as a survivalist, not in the terms of the Montana Freemen."
Creighton favors vice implementing formal measures to help prostitutes escape "the life." She was energized by a recent incident.
"This came about because a mother slapped her daughter down here in front and said, 'I don't want her home," says sergeant Terry McLean, one of Creighton's senior detectives, who's spearheading the program. "Her daughter was a prostitute -- just 18 -- who had come to us and wanted to turn in her pimp, wanted to leave the life. We called her mother. Her mother came to the station, got out of the car, slapped her, said, 'I don't want her at home,' and drove off. Now what do we do? She was homeless at that point, without money, without friends, because her friends were involved in prostitution. So we ended up putting her in a hotel and then after trying several social service agencies, we found one that would take her. We still have contact with her, and she's not back in the game that we're aware of."
"That really is a tremendous example of problem-oriented policing," says Creighton. "Finding the root cause, to know what is causing the problem. The problem is she had no place to go; she didn't have a support system. Now she has a place to be, she has a support system; that's how you stop a problem from continuing. And that's the direction the department is going, [instead of] just going out and arrest, arrest, arrest. You can do that till you're blue in the face. Going for the cause, rather than the symptoms: More of that will be happening."
That approach may differ from Duncan's.
"I am an enforcement-oriented police officer," he says, "which means that there are some situations that cannot be dealt with by a handshake and a friendly word. You have to put some of them in jail, and I think prostitution is definitely one of those areas. I'd like to see some more jail space for prostitutes."