Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of street prostitution. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

Police are not solely responsible for addressing this problem. In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the street prostitution problem, and you should consider the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • elected and appointed local government officials
  • public health agencies
  • prostitutes’ support organizations
  • social service agencies
  • business associations
  • tourism and convention promotion bureaus
  • neighborhood associations
  • traffic engineering departments.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of street prostitution, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

There are many ways to enlist community members in the task of gathering information to document the problem’s scope. [23] These include using handheld video cameras to record activity, taking guided walks with police to identify areas where residents feel unsafe, highlighting trouble spots on neighborhood maps, and using data collection forms to record the date, time, and nature of events they witness.

Police and Community Members

  • How concerned is the police department about street prostitution? How concerned is the community? What groups are particularly concerned, and why? What specific concerns do they express?
  • How organized and active are community members who oppose street prostitution? What street prostitution level are they willing to tolerate?

Street Prostitutes

  • Does street prostitution take only one form (e.g., female prostitutes and male clients), or are there several different forms (e.g., homosexual or transvestite prostitution)?
  • What do you know about the prostitutes (e.g., age, gender, race, criminal history, social service history, substance abuse history, residence)?
  • Do street prostitutes commit crimes against clients (e.g., robbery or theft)? Are street prostitutes crime victims?
  • How committed are prostitutes to prostitution? How committed are they to a particular location?
  • How many prostitutes have tried to leave the streets before? What drew them back? What additional services could have supported their decision to leave?

† The Raleigh (North Carolina) Police Department conducted a problem-solving project using this guide’s first edition. Refer to Weisel (2004) for an excellent example of adapting the processes described here to local conditions. The report also contains useful sample survey tools for prostitutes and clients.

Street Prostitutes’ Clients

  • What do you know about the clients (e.g., age, race, occupation, socioeconomic status, marital status, criminal history, residence)?
  • How committed are clients to prostitution? How committed are they to soliciting prostitutes on the street or in a particular area?
  • How often do you rearrest clients for soliciting prostitutes?

Pimps

  • Do the prostitutes work for pimps who profit from their income?
  • How many prostitutes do pimps manage?
  • Are pimps well-known to police? If so, how many pimps operate in the jurisdiction?
  • Is there pimp competition in prostitute control?

Sexual Transactions

  • How, specifically, do street prostitutes and clients negotiate and complete sexual transactions? Do clients solicit prostitutes on foot or from a vehicle? Where do the sexual transactions take place?
  • Do prostitutes and clients take precautions to prevent sexually transmitted disease?

Environment

  • Does street prostitution take place in more than one area? What conditions make the area(s) attractive for street prostitution? If street prostitution occurs in several areas, how are they similar and different?
  • What area businesses does street prostitution harm?
  • What area businesses support and/or benefit from street prostitution?
  • Is the street prostitution market in each area old or new? Has it changed in size recently? If so, why?
  • Do street prostitution areas have a reputation as being dangerous or safe for clients?
  • Are street prostitution areas isolated, or busy with other activities?
  • What other types of crime occur in the area? How much is related to street prostitution?
  • If street prostitution were forced out of a target area, where would you predict it might reappear, and why?

Drug Links

  • To what extent are street prostitutes, clients, and pimps engaged in drug sales or use?
  • Are street prostitution and street drug markets near each other?
  • Do street prostitutes exchange sex directly for drugs?

Current Responses to the Problem

  • What is the police department’s current policy in dealing with street prostitution? What is the prosecutor’s current policy regarding prostitution-related offenses? What are the typical sentences handed out to those convicted? Do the prostitutes and clients complete those sentences? What effect, if any, does the imposition of a sentence have on subsequent prostitution involvement?
  • What responses do police officers use, other than arrest and prosecution? Are any of these responses especially effective?
  • What social, health, and substance-abuse treatment services are available to help prostitutes? Are prostitutes using available services?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. There are various ways to quantify the size and scope of the problem to establish a baseline. You could track the total number of police contacts with prostitutes in the past 12 months, the number of prostitutes regularly seen or cautioned in an area, or the average number of women working on any given night. These data will be useful for different purposes: to estimate social service needs, as a point of reference for enforcement operations, or as a measure of police effectiveness. [24] For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.

† The Deter and Identify Sex Trade Consumers database, accessed by 36 police agencies across Canada and the United States, provides information on prostitutes and clients to support police investigations [Vancouver (British Columbia) Police Department Vice Unit 2002]. To be most effective, as many jurisdictions as possible need to use and receive information from multijurisdiction databases. In addition, data fields must be sufficiently detailed and data entry must be monitored for quality control.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to street prostitution:

  • reduced number of citizen complaints or calls for service about street prostitution
  • reduced number of prostitutes visible on the streets at particular times
  • increased transaction times for decoy officers trying to negotiate acts of prostitution
  • reduced arrests of repeat offenders (both prostitutes and clients)
  • reduced recidivism by both prostitutes and clients
  • changes in service prices for prostitutes††
  • reduced traffic congestion in areas where curb-crawling (or “kerb-crawling,” in the United Kingdom) is a problem
  • reduced volume of discarded condoms, syringes, and other prostitution-related paraphernalia
  • reduced total reported crime in target areas compared with control areas (keeping in mind that changes may be due to other factors, and that reported crime does not always correlate with actual crime).

† Depending on the response strategy, arrests (and rearrests) of prostitutes and clients may increase initially. Over time, if the responses are effective, you should observe a reduction in the number of arrests.

†† Responses that reduce the number of prostitutes working in an area tend to drive prices up, whereas responses that reduce the number of clients soliciting in a particular area tend to drive prices down.