By Edwin Folven, 2/02/2012
An increase in prostitution during the past three months on Western Avenue between Melrose Avenue and 2nd Street has prompted extra police patrols and a heightened crackdown along the busy thoroughfare.
Authorities said prostitution has been a problem for decades on Western Avenue, but in November, officials and community members began noticing more activity, particularly during the early morning rush hour. Senior lead officer Joseph Pelayo, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic Division, said officials aren’t sure why there has been an uptick recently in prostitution in the area, but he surmises it is through word of mouth on the streets and on the Internet.
“I used to work Vice in Hollywood during the late nineties, and back then you had streets like Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard that were known for a lot of prostitution activity,” Pelayo said. “Ten years later, the information spreads more quickly through the Internet and it is harder to trace. They know it is quick money for them.”
Pelayo said the prostitutes usually operate alone, and there is almost always a pimp waiting somewhere nearby. He added that the activity mostly takes place between 2 and 6 a.m., but lately the prostitutes have been lingering longer.
“Around November we started seeing them stay longer into the morning, and we started getting more complaints. They never work in groups, and some days they’re there, some days they’re not. A lot of it centers around Second and Western,” Pelayo said. “Vice has been working the issue non-stop, and patrols have been increased. There is also an issue where they go into the surrounding neighborhoods with the Johns and they leave condoms.”
City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said community members have complained to his office about the problem, and he is working with the LAPD’s Olympic Division to address the issue. LaBonge and the LAPD hosted a community meeting in Koreatown on Jan. 26 to notify the community about the ongoing efforts to fix the problem.
“Street prostitution had effectively been reduced across the city because of vigorous prosecution, but in this particular case, it has popped back up,” LaBonge said. “People have reported seeing them at seven in the morning when kids are going to school, and we are going to look at measures that could help control the problem.”
Pelayo said he did not have any statistics about the number of arrests that have been made, but at least five prostitutes were arrested last week prior to the community meeting. Vice officers have been working the area at night and in the early morning, and reverse stings — where female LAPD officers dress up as prostitutes in an attempt to arrest their customers — are also being held. Pelayo said although patrol and vice officers are targeting the area, police rely on reports from the public. He urged anyone who sees a prostitute working in the area to call 911 so police can get to the location quickly. He added that members of the public should never approach the prostitutes, because many times they carry weapons and could be dangerous.
“The community has been notified that if they see a prostitute, they should document what they are seeing, whether it is a lewd act or someone getting into a vehicle, and then report it immediately,” Pelayo added. “We want them to know we are out there.”
Pelayo added that some of the measures the police and the city are looking into are installing more street lighting on the surrounding residential streets and posting no turn signs on Western Avenue between 5th and Clinton Streets between to discourage people from entering the surrounding neighborhoods between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The signs also give police probable cause to pull a vehicle over if they suspect a prostitute is inside.
Anyone wishing to make a report prostitution activity can contact Pelayo at (213)793-0709. To contact the Olympic Division’s Vice Unit, call (213)382-9480.