Prostitution sting nets 51 so far

A crackdown on street prostitution in response to complaints from Polk Street and Russian Hill residents has netted 51 arrests, but officials say the crackdown can’t last forever.

As The Examiner reported this month, police Chief George Gascón wants to publish the mug shots and license plates of those who are caught paying for sex in San Francisco on a Web site or in the media. It is part of a larger city strategy aimed at fighting the oldest profession.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gascón said that while the current crackdown has resulted in more arrests, the department could not continue sending male and female officers to the area in undercover sting operations.

Of the 51 people arrested so far in the current operation, 36 were women accused of prostitution offenses, according to Lt. Tom Cleary of the vice crimes unit. Fifteen were men paying for sex. Cleary emphasized that a majority of those arrested came from outside The City.

Prostitutes and their customers come to San Francisco because they couldn’t get away with this behavior in their own neighborhoods, Gascón said.

Publishing the photos of sex customers occurs in hundreds of other cities, but it has not exactly found wholehearted support in San Francisco, where a ballot measure to legalize prostitution in 2008 garnered more than 40 percent of the vote.

On Tuesday, Gascón said he would only publish the information of a sex customer who is a repeat offender.

“Johns, typically, are not repeat offenders,” he said. “We want to leave these more embarrassing moments … for people who do not get it.”

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who said he has been fighting to rid District 3 of prostitution since before his election in 2008, said he would support the idea of publishing someone’s photo only if it was a repeat offender and only if other options, such as community court and rehabilitation programs, have been exhausted.

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