This article was originally published on May 07, 2013 at 02:20 PM
By Jessica Mullins
The San Rafael Police cited five men Friday night after they allegedly agreed to pay for sex in an undercover prostitution sting.
Police officials said the operation was spurred by a recent rise in complaints about prostitution from local businesses and residents in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood.
It had been several months since the police did an undercover sting — cracking down on prostitution is tricky because it’s difficult to catch prostitutes or pimps, police officials said Friday night at the San Rafael Police Department detective headquarters during the operation’s briefing.
But as Patch observed on Friday night, the police can target prostitution clients, or “johns,” in an attempt to curb the illegal behavior that has been linked to violent crimes.
Police had a female officer pose as a prostitute on San Rafael’s “track” Friday night. Several Bay Area towns, including San Rafael, Santa Rosa, San Jose and Vallejo, have prostitution “tracks,” where pimps regularly drop off girls before they perform other crimes, such as armed robberies, in the same area, according to San Rafael Police Lt. Dan Fink.
In the past year, there have been 100 documented prostitution-related cases in the Canal, according to the San Rafael Police.
WORKING THE TRACK
San Rafael’s undercover officer posed as a prostitute Friday night in the heart of Marin’s only prostitution track, a two-block stretch on Medway Road near the 7-Eleven, between East Francisco Blvd. and Belvedere.
Contrary to what many might expect a hooker to dress like (Pretty Women, anyone?) the undercover officer’s outfit showed no skin and involved a baggy coat, colorful retro sneakers, crimped hair, blue eye shadow and big jewelry. And it fit the bill. She had no problem getting the attention of johns, even immediately after the operation began in the daylight around 6:30 p.m. Her colleagues were nearby, keeping a clandestine eye on her from two strategically-placed undercover cars.
Many men used the key phrase — “business?” — to check if she was a prostitute. A few lost interest after told them she didn’t have a phone number to give out.
In today's prostitution world, it’s more common for the women to give out cards with their phone numbers on them, Fink said. Then, the prostitutes often make house calls instead of joining a man in his car or meeting him a hotel room.
The undercover officer, wearing a wire recording her conversations, would get men to specifically say they were looking for sex in exchange for money (usually a range of $20 to $40) before walking with them to the nearby Motel 6, where the police had a reserved hotel room with officers waiting inside and nearby.
When the undercover officer and the john arrived, the officers would surround the man before he entered the room.
The men were handcuffed and taken into the hotel room — which was serving as the police department’s processing point for the special operation. The johns were questioned, photographed, fingerprinted and, usually, released on a citation.
One of the men apprehended in the operation was also arrested for DUI — he drove into the motel parking lot to meet the phony prostitute, failed a field sobriety test and was booked in Marin County Jail. The other four men apprehended were cited and released on the scene, pending review by the district attorney’s office.