The Asheville Police Department has launched a new online police blotter where they will post the photos of individuals arrested on prostitution charges. The photos, names, charges and cities of residence of individuals arrested for prostitution (including the “johns,” as they are called) will be displayed on the site and on the Asheville Channel’s Bulletin Board (on Charter cable channel 11).
The move comes after five undercover prostitution sting operations conducted Jan. 12 through Feb. 1, which resulted in 34 arrests, according to APD Officer Steve Riddle. The individuals that will be displayed on the Web site were charged during the sting operation, he said, but are still awaiting trial. Prostitution, a Class I misdemeanor, often results in court costs and a fine rather than jail time, according to Riddle, so broadcasting the photos is meant to be a deterrent to repeat offenders.
“People say prostitution is a victimless crime, but I don’t think that’s true,” he told Xpress. “Number one, we have this prostitution activity in residential neighborhoods. And a lot of these girls have diseases like hepatitis and HIV, and these guys are taking it home to their families.”
According to an APD press release, prostitution is linked with drug activity and “associated crimes, such as disorderly conduct, increased noise and traffic and the loss of business to merchants.” Women who engage in prostitution, the release states, are often addicted to drugs and suffer both mental and physical violence. Asked whether broadcasting prostitute’s names and faces might open the door to more violence directed toward them, Riddle replied, “No, I don’t think there’s a concern there.”
But Katy Parker, legal director of the North Carolina ACLU in Raleigh, finds the program questionable. “The rule is, you cannot punish some one who has not been convicted, under the 14th Amendment,” says Parker. “There is a good argument that this would constitute punishment prior to trial.” In Winston-Salem, a similar program was launched, Parker notes, but after a round of discussions with the ACLU, the Winston-Salem Police Department decided to broadcast the names and photos only of individuals already convicted on prostitution charges.
The APD release also noted that police have started sending cards to the owners of vehicles that were spotted cruising in areas known for high prostitution and drug activity. “If we observe a vehicle in a prostitution area or a drug area or public housing area … ‘doing the loop,’ as we call it, we send a card to the registered owner. It says, your vehicle was observed in a high crime area. It’s basically to let them know that, hey, we’re watching,” says Riddle.
Riddle says he does not know of plans to disseminate personal information about individuals charged for crimes other than prostitution in the online police blotter.