Civil Liberties

D.C. Police Prioritize Stopping Theoretical Sex Over Solving Actual Crimes

Police brag that solicitation stings will have devastating consequences for men arrested.


AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons

Between May 1 and June 25, nearly 30 people were killed in what are believed to be homicides in the Distict of Columbia. Just this week, a pregnant woman was stabbed here while riding her bike home from work. The downtown-adjacent, recently gentrified neighborhood of Logan Circle has seen nine robberies, one homicide, two incidents of sexual assault, and two other assaults between late May and late July, in addition to 4 burglaries, 43 reports of theft, 44 reports of theft from a car, and 11 stolen cars—and that's all within 1,500 feet of the neighborhood's center. Expand your crime-report search out to the corners of the neighborhood, and you'll see more of all of the above. Or look at my neighborhood, Mount Pleasant: 7 robberies, 1 assault, and 45 incidents of property crime within a quarter mile of the main drag during June and July. The neighborhood around the Reason offices has seen just one robbery with a gun in this time, but also 33 other property crimes. And these are all what are considered "nice" neighborhoods within the district. 

So what have D.C. cops been busying themselves with this summer? Well, between July 14 and today, they've arrested 50 men for soliciting prostitution.


D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans has been pushing the recent anti-prostitution efforts, introducing legislation last week that would allow city cops to impound the cars of anyone arrested for solicitation. He says both the bill and the police efforts are in response to a massive influx of street-based prostitution in his neighborhoods around Logan Circle. Yet Evans offers no evidence for this claim, and it seems especially unlikely considering the trend just about everywhere has been toward more web-advertised sex sales and fewer women walking the streets. 

But whatever: We don't have to fully believe Evans' claim to see that even were it true, D.C. cops are not actually addressing the problem. If they really wanted to stop street-based prostitution in Logan Circle, they would either go after street-based sex workers or go after people they witness purchasing sex from them. (Not suggesting cops should do more of either, but these actions would at least make sense in regard to their stated goal.) Instead, police have been posting online ads posing as sex workers, arranging to meet men at area hotels, and then arresting the men for solicitation when they show up.

Yes, in order to stop men from cruising the streets looking for sex, they're going after men who try to arrange everything over the Internet. Which makes it pretty clear the real goal isn't fixing a neighborhood quality-of-life issue, as Evans and police have been portraying the efforts. But punishing people for prostitution is sexier than investigating iPhone thefts, less dangerous than solving violent crimes, makes the yuppies of places like Logan Circle happy because they think it's helping their property values, and allows cops to extort money (and maybe soon cars) from people who've had the audacity to answer an Internet ad. Cops bragged to The Washington Post that "a single [soliciation] arrest can have devastating consequences for their jobs and families even if they are punished lightly in court." 

Evans (to his credit?) doesn't even pretend that this is some noble effort against human trafficking; he just wants to get the filthy sex-havers out of the delicate sight of him and his constituents. "Prostitution is a regional business that thrives from Richmond to Montreal. It will go to the jurisdiction of least resistance," he said. So long as it's NIMBY…

But not all Logan Circle residents appreciate Evans' fight. "Since I've lived in this neighborhood, and it's a really good neighborhood, I've been mugged once, I've seen two shootings," resident James Quinn told WUSA9. "I think those are things to focus on more than prostitution." 

Police say the sting operation is ongoing.