Concentrate on exposing and arresting the johns and confiscating their vehicles, and bust the crack dealers big time. Business and then the crack supply will dry up and move somewhere else.
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"What are you doing pimping in front of my house?" shouts Bob, a 52-year-old sculptor, standing on his front porch. He steps inside and calls the police.
In the last six months, Bob has made more than 30 complaints to the Galveston Police Department about crack whores in his neighborhood. When Bob bought his turn-of-the-century bungalow two years ago, prostitutes worked a few blocks away. Now, he says, they're in his front yard. As he sits in his porch swing smoking cigarettes, women climb his front steps and proposition him.
"I'm despairing about the situation," Bob says. "It's out of control."
He gets into his Yellow Cab and drives along the seawall. A skinny brunette in a short red dress tries to flag him down. She doesn't want a taxi ride, he says.
He drives past the Diamond Shamrock on the corner of 33rd Street. Hookers are standing around the three blue pay phones outside the gas station Stop N Go. The women proposition men by the gasoline pumps and turn tricks in the alley, says manager Reza Noor.
Most of the men the hookers hit on have stopped at the convenience store to buy a cup of coffee on their way to work.
It's 5 a.m. Time for a little morning pick-me-up.
In the last two months, complaints about prostitutes working the early-morning, before-breakfast, way-to-work crowd have almost tripled, says Sergeant Phillip Fleming of the Galveston Police Department vice and narcotics squad. Typically, the prostitution rush hour is after clubs close, between 2 and 4 a.m. But now women are working the white-collar rush hour.
In the last six weeks, Fleming conducted three stings from 6:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. "Right away we started grabbing girls," he says. Eleven women were arrested.
"Maybe they forgot to set their clocks back," says Mo Ibrahim, Galveston County first assistant district attorney. "They're confused. Usually they're creeping out at night. I don't know why there's a sudden influx of prostitution during the morning."
Every day local business owners complain that when they're trying to open their businesses, prostitutes are working in the parking lot. When The Spot's baker arrives at 5:30 a.m., prostitutes are waiting, says Dennis Byrd, owner of the seawall hamburger joint. There are so many complaint calls, officers don't even bother to write them down, Fleming says. They would clutter an entire computer.
Fleming has several theories as to why daybreak sex deals are on the rise. One is that some people simply like to have sex in the morning. Another is that for some guys, driving to work is the only time they're alone. If a married man works until 5 p.m., then has to pick up the kids from soccer practice 15 minutes later, he most likely won't want to have the kids with him when he's hiring a hooker. Whereas in the morning, a guy can tell his wife or girlfriend he's going to hit the gym.
Detective Robert Owens says the officers working in the morning are too busy following up on reports from the night shift to hunt predawn prostitutes. Younger cops work in the evenings, Owens says, and they have more time and energy. "In the morning, everybody's trying to go to breakfast and there's just not a lot of proactive work being done between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.," Owens says. "They know that." Prostitutes know all of the officers working the neighborhood. Heck, Fleming went to school with one woman. Streetwalkers learn the police officers' shifts and schedules; they know who works where and when. "They'll vary their work schedules, getting out on the streets when they know we're not," Fleming says. "They don't expect us to be out early in the morning."
Galveston's red-light district is on the seawall east of 35th Street. As the hotels along the beach get progressively cheaper, so do the prostitutes. Many live in $20-a-day hole-in-the-wall motels. They're never on the Strand where officers patrol, or around the San Luis Hotel or the Hotel Galvez, where off-duty GPD officers work as security guards.
Fleming talks about prostitutes like a Discovery Channel big game hunter. When he conducts a sting, he tries to hit a different area at a different time of day. If police prey on the same spot too often, the herd of hookers will move. If officers have too many evening stings, the streetwalkers will work mornings. "It's all a cat-and-mouse game," he says.
Galveston whores don't wear Hollywood fishnets, feather boas and fuck-me heels. They wear shorts and flip-flops. "These aren't your $2,000-a-night prostitutes," Ibrahim says. The average rate is about $10. One former hooker says she's seen girls turn tricks for a Dr Pepper and a bag of chips.
"If you've ever been to Los Angeles, you'll see them in flocks on the streets," Ibrahim says. "It's like window-shopping. You'll have a selection to choose from."
Whereas in Galveston, it can be difficult to differentiate prostitutes from tourists. Many women walk along the beach wearing a bikini top and shorts. But if a man pulls over and honks, most normal women won't try to jump in his car, Fleming says. "Say, 'Hey, baby, get in, let's go for a ride,' " Fleming says. "If she gets in, she's got to be a prostitute."