Charles H. Kim Elementary School was the site of a neighborhood meeting designed to address the prostitution issue that exists along Western Avenue.
The prostitution along Western has impacted parts of our neighborhood in a variety of ways over the years, but late last year the activity intensified and expanded into the morning hours. The tipping point – young girls are regularly seen working the streets near two local elementary schools – Charles H. Kim and St. Brendan School. Neighbors and concerned parents issued a challenge to Council Member Tom LaBonge – to help them take back their streets.
Thursday evening’s meeting was essentially a progress report. And it’s clear that Council Member Tom LaBonge has made it a top priority for his office and for the LAPD. Greater Wilshire Area Field Deputy, Ben Seinfeld, and LAPD’s Olympic Division – led by Olympic Area Commanding Officer, Captain Tina Nieto and Olympic Area Patrol Commanding Officer, Captain Robert Arcos – have made a lot of progress over the past few weeks.
The meeting was in 3 parts – Public Safety, City Attorney Office, Traffic Changes.
Sergeant Dohmen, Supervisor for the LAPD Olympic Division Vice Unit, addressed the role of the Vice Unit in patrolling the area. As an example, he shared that Vice took 5 girls off the street earlier in the day. But those 5 girls were probably back on the street later in the day due to the overcrowding in our jails. LAPD is up against a never ending supply of desperate young women.
Vice will also run a reverse trick task force to catch the prostitutes’ clients…female LAPD officers dress up and reel in the guys soliciting the girls. But there seems to be a never ending supply of them, too.
It’s Vice’s job to make sure that the girls who work the area know that LAPD intends to be vigilant about patrolling and taking the girls in when they are in violation of the law.
Senior Lead Officer Joseph Pelayo addressed some things we as citizens should know:
- Call 911. When you call 911 the call gets logged and resources are diverted to areas where crime is greater.
- Lighting! Lighting is a great deterrent to this kind of crime.
- Never approach a vehicle. The girls all carry something (like a knife) to protect themselves and there is always someone watching out for them.
- LAPD Olympic Division Roll Call – every morning, Captain Arcos issues the challenge to his officers to make Western Avenue a part of their morning routine. To make their presence known.
City Attorney Office
Deputy City Attorney Tamar Galatzan addressed what goes on with these girls once they are arrested. It used to be that a prostitute would get 90 days or less and serve 10-25% of that sentence. Now…with the jail system full-up, a prostitute will be booked and released in the same day.
Galatzan acknowledged that the City Attorney’s Office recognizes they have to find a better solution and change up the penalties for this crime. They are working on some sentencing that might have a better result – e.g. sentencing them to working for Caltrans, or cleaning up trash, etc.
The City Attorney’s Office also has some diversion programs – but they work better for the prostitutes’ customers than they do for the women. Users must plead guilty to the crime and then they are fined and sentenced to “reform” school. After a period of time, the client can plead their case and get their record cleaned up.
Field Deputy Ben Seinfeld is working the plan. He has taken his role in being accountable to the community very seriously. Together with LAPD Senior Lead Officer Pelayo, Seinfeld addressed proposed traffic engineering changes for Western Avenue that have worked in other communities and should work for our neighborhood.
Essentially, signs would be posted limiting left/right turns off Western Avenue between 5th and Clinton and between the hours of 11p-6a. What this does is make it more difficult for prostitutes’ clients to turn into our neighborhoods and an illegal turn gives the LAPD Officers a reason to pull over a potential Vice crime in progress.
All in all, the problem is getting a lot of attention – and that’s a good thing. But it’s a problem that is like a weed…you think you have it taken care of and very quickly, it will be back with a bunch of friends. Right now, a lot of City resources are focused on making Western Avenue prostitute-free. Stay tuned for more.
A special thanks to Charles H. Kim Principal Kerry Kehrley who hosted the meeting. What a great representative for LAUSD!