Savvy Prostitutes, Romantic Johns, and Bad Police Work

by Charlotte Shane on June 22, 2011 · 3 comments

in Cops

I bought you this gift basket...and you arrested me.

When it takes a police force six months of “sting”-level efforts to arrest 36 people for prostitution or solicitation (no trafficking charges, no minors involved, no coercion, and only one drug charge) either that police force is terrible or prostitution is rare in their area. Quite possibly, in Syracuse, both are true.

Last week, I came across a bizarre article detailing the findings—I can’t think of any other word for it—of Syracuse police after they spent almost $4,000 renting an apartment to try to catch potential prostitutes and johns. (Keep in mind that figure doesn’t include the taxpayer money suppling the salaries of the police who spent half a year on this misdemeanor-yielding project.) It’s unclear at the moment how many of their arrests will result in convictions, but at least there’s one tangible outcome from all that time and energy: a 238 page report sharing juicy details of how prostitutes and clients interact “behind close[sic] doors.” Ooo, this is going to be good!

According to police documents, several of the women tried to protect themselves by patting down the impostor client, asking if he was a cop, and playing the old “donation”/”fee” word game. (Note to any ladies who don’t already know: none of those things will protect you from arrest.) Awesomely, one suspicious prostitute picked up on what was going on and released a warning online, causing police to relocate. High five, sister! And yet more evidence that these are not the craftiest cats in blue. The article says it was the first time police had used the internet to try to make prostitution arrests, but I wonder if it was their first time using the internet, period.

Not awesomely at all, two of the arrested women agreed to have unprotected sex upon the request of the men—meaning the undercover police officers. I have no idea what benefit that request could have in terms of getting a conviction. Maybe the cops were hoping to press for a steeper penalty by convincing the judge that the women make a habit of unprotected paid sex? That’s possible, since New York has some seriously disturbing practices when it comes to sex workers and STIs:

The women were checked for sexually transmitted diseases as part of the state public health law. The men were not tested since it was not required by law[.]

One of those women was visibly pregnant. Another had recently undergone neck surgery.

As for the boys, they were a mixed bag. Three wanted unprotected sex, and many wanted to negotiate the price. One man offered to take the impostor prostitute grocery shopping, which I thought was incredibly sweet, and another brought the type of uber-feminine gifts (body spray, lotion, and panties) that often end up getting thrown out because, let’s face it, most men have terrible taste in undergarments and scents. Thank god these monsters are going to get the book thrown at them!

Hopefully this goes without saying, but I don’t want prostitutes or johns arrested for the consensual, adult transactions they arrange. I’m not lamenting a lack of arrests, I’m lamenting a surplus of wasteful stings and stupid law enforcement priorities. I know that police have to enforce the law regardless of how they personally feel about the law, and one charitable way to read this story would be to assume they didn’t make more arrests because they too thought their assignment was ridiculous and so didn’t put their best foot forward.

Syracuse saw 200 reported crimes in a single week of May alone, including 25 assaults and 45 burglaries. How that merits six months of posting Backpage ads, I’ve no idea. This also comes on the tail of police noticing that “street prostitution had dropped precipitously,” meaning it was definitely not prompted by the standard complaints about public nuisances like loitering, late night noise, and littering. (Love that word choice there. “Precipitously”? Uh oh. Are we talking about a decline in street work or a drop in the patient’s blood sugar levels?)

In summation, what the fuck, Syracuse police? Syracuse citizens should start asking more of you, beginning with the request that you target working girls less.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Wolfman June 23, 2011 at 3:50 am

Amen. It’s not right, people just trying to live their lives getting their freedom taken away for no real reason.


License to Pimp June 23, 2011 at 11:02 pm

It could be that neighbors were upset by the customer traffic that the brothel brought in and felt it messed up their orderly neighborhood. Or it could also be some cops who need to make their quota or get a promotion so they need to make sure they get a big vice sting that’s “successful” in arresting “criminals”. Mostly a lot of these larger prostitution stings are targetted at immigrants so that the police feel justified in stopping trafficking victims. They get lots of money to pump up their budgets when they go after trafficking victims, whom they then deport back to their homelands, who find themselves ostracized by their family & friends.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that the arrests deter the people involved from returning to prostitution if that’s the police’s objective. When these sex workers are hit with fines, they usually have to rely even more on doing more sex work to pay off these fines. The arrests just keep sex workers in a cycle of criminality.

If the law just decriminalized prostitution, it would make it better for the sex workers. They could report when there’s a real crime being committed against them instead of being labelled the criminals.

Please check out/subscribe to my blog on sex workers’ conditions:

I’m also making a documentary entitled LICENSE TO PIMP about strippers & the choices they make when their strip clubs engage in illegal labor practices:


Charlotte Shane June 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm

It couldn’t have been traffic from a brothel because the police themselves set up an incall in an apartment complex and then lured individuals there both as clients and as workers. Everyone arrested for prostitution seems to have been working independently as there were no mentions of pimping charges or larger “rings” being brought down. There was also no mention of anyone being in the country illegally or being charged with trafficking. So I think this was a pretty old school sting. Of course I agree that decriminalization is preferable and these enterprises are valueless.


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