Pittsburgh police arrest dozens of suspected customers of prostitutes
By Margaret Harding
Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 9:35 p.m.
Pittsburgh police arrested three dozen suspected customers of prostitutes during a monthlong undercover operation, authorities said Tuesday.
One suspect, a Hill District man, is accused of trying to pay for sex with his 7-month-old son in the car, inches from a loaded firearm. He is awaiting trial for drug possession, patronizing a prostitute and child endangerment. Authorities would not release all the names of those they charged, most with misdemeanors.
“It becomes important because if you just keep picking up the girls, you don't affect the demand,” said Sgt. Cristyn Zett, who heads the vice squad. “It's like the drug trade. You grab a few, and a few pop up, but if you don't do anything, you run into quality-of-life issues for the neighborhood.”
City police made the arrests as part of the “National Day of Johns Arrests” campaign, which is coordinated by the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff's Office. The national campaign led to 323 arrests for soliciting prostitution, according to a release from the sheriff's office.
“The goal is to highlight that stifling the demand of sex for cash is really the key to stopping this.” said Ben Breit, spokesman for the office.
In Pittsburgh, Zett said detectives questioned the men they arrested to develop strategies to combat solicitation. But she said there isn't a certain type of man who solicits prostitutes. In less than an hour on July 18, city police arrested two men from the same corner in Carrick — one a passenger in a jitney, the other a Cranberry resident.
“It cuts across race, socioeconomic lines,” Zett said. “We get guys who offer $4 or $5, and guys who have hundreds in cash in their wallets.”
Donna Williams, a block watch captain in Carrick, said prostitution and drugs are a problem in that South Hills neighborhood that residents and police are working to combat.
“When we see something like that going on, we say, ‘No, not on our street,' and they go,” Williams said. “Some of the times we've turned people in, we turned in our own police.”
Four times a year, city police put on a “johns school” for some of the men accused of patronizing prostitutes. The men hear from community members, county health department representatives and former prostitutes during the daylong class, said Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff, who coordinates the program.
“We let them know it is not a victimless crime,” Bickerstaff said.
Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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