One year later, prostitution down along Sprague Avenue
SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane police think they’ve managed to drive a lot of prostitutes off East Sprague Avenue and one year into a new enforcement program they have the numbers to prove it.
The social problems that force women into prostitution are not easy fixes, so police decided to address the problem by scaring off the prostitutes’ customers by targeting their wallets.
A year ago, city employees began putting up signs along Sprague warning drivers they could have their cars towed if they were caught soliciting prostitutes.
“People will be arrested, they’ll be booked into jail, their car will be impounded, there will be an additional fine on top of the impoundment fees, so there will be a very stiff penalty for patronizing a prostitute in this area,” Spokane Police Lt. Mark Griffiths said last March.
Just three weeks later police made good on their promise. In the first of four sting operations, officers posing as prostitutes made arrests and towed away cars. Nearby businesses and homeowners were also urged to call in the license plates of vehicles involved in unsavory behavior. Griffiths personally called more than 200 registered vehicle owners to let them know where their car has been spotted and suddenly the once secret Sprague Avenue rendezvous were no longer very secret.
“We’re following up on that activity just like any other crime so if that’s embarrassing for the person, that’s not our concern. Our concern is stopping this activity,” Griffiths said.
One year later, Sprague Avenue businesses say that’s exactly what’s happened.
“It’s a lot better, there’s far less of the girls walking around down here. The regulars that were here forever have seem to have gotten out,” Luke Casey at Rail Creek Furniture said.
From the showroom floor of Rail Creek Furniture, Casey had a front row seat to the problem. He says prostitution no longer plagues East Sprague Avenue and the legitimate business district is now thriving.
“It’s just a better place to come and it’s only getting better with all the improvements down here, so we’re on the right track,” Casey said.
This time last year the number of calls for service involving prostitution peaked at 35 in March, and once those signs went up, the numbers steadily declined, even during the busy summer months. Police don’t think the sex trade went away, just moved online and off Sprague Avenue.