The Asheville Police Department’s new online Police Blotter, which publicizes prostitution arrests, has come under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
The Raleigh-based group challenged the practice in a March 6 letter to Assistant City Attorney Curt Euler. “With regard to the posting of arrestees’ names and photos on the police blotter and on the government-access channel, it appears that this practice violates the arrestees’ right to be free from punishment prior to conviction,” Legal Director Katherine Parker wrote.
“Based on our discussion yesterday, it appears that the purpose is punitive and therefore unconstitutional,” the letter continues, referring to a phone conversation with Euler. The ACLU also takes issue with the Police Department’s practice of sending postcards to the owners of vehicles seen making the rounds in areas known for prostitution. “In addition to the concern that this program imposes punishment on these individuals … we have concerns that this practice violates individuals’ fundamental right to travel,” the letter notes.
The correspondence concludes with a word of advice: “We strongly recommend that you reconsider implementation of these programs.”
Asked about the matter, Euler declined to make a public statement. “I can say that we’ve received the letter, and I can’t really comment, because that’s involving my legal advice to my client,” he said. Euler also confirmed that the APD had consulted the city attorney’s office before launching the program.
APD Public Information Officer Melissa Williams was also unwilling to speak directly about the ACLU letter, saying the Police Department would follow the city attorney’s advice on how to proceed.
“Basically, nothing about the postings or the way it transpired has changed,” she noted. “The idea to post this arrest information had been discussed internally before I got here and was only realized after I was on board. … And the program in which cards are mailed to vehicle owners has been under way for more than a year. It’s not a new program. It’s been going on for a while, and I’ve not received any complaints about it since I came here last May.”
Many cities, added Williams, have implemented similar programs. The people who are most affected, she said, are those living close to prostitution hot spots. “The APD has heard from many residents, particularly in the South French Broad Avenue area, who say that their children are regularly being exposed to public displays of sexual activity between prostitutes and their customers,” she explained.
“The court system has no real impact, since offenders receive a fine and are right back on the street within hours. So many people, media included, are quick to blame the police for many of society’s failures—but when the courts fail to deal with problems like this, it doesn’t stop residents from demanding that the police do something about it.”