Thursday, April 8, 2010

The ‘prostitution exclusion zone’ — five years later

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2010 at 2:09 PM

About five years ago, the Camp Greene neighborhood was known for prostitution and other seedy crimes. Hookers and johns didn’t try to hide their illicit activity and residents were left trapped inside as condoms littered their yards because of what had gone on in the overnight hours.

Brian Fincher, president of the Camp Greene Neighborhood Association, said he’s been in the area for 12 years and remembers going home and getting flashed and solicited every day. “It was a daily battle …” he said of the prostitutes and pimps who took up residence. “There were a lot of elderly people over here in the neighborhood who were scared.”

Sgt. Spencer Cochran, of CMPD’s Metro division, recalls getting phone calls from people about finding used condoms at the bus stops in the mornings, streets stained with urine and feces and doors slamming all hours of the night because of prostitution in Camp Greene. As a result, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police studied the problem and came up with a solution: the prostitution exclusion zone. And Metro division Capt. Bruce Bellamy said that neighborhood today is nothing like it was when the zone was set up.

“It’s night and day from what it used to be,” said Bellamy. “I hear this all the time from the community. The way it was out in the open is nonexistent in that area. In the past, you would just turn down the corner and there would be girls lined up, all out in the street and stuff.”

Fincher said that now when you go down the streets of the neighborhood, you see residents out walking their dogs, working in their yards and planting flowers without fear.

The zone works in this way, Bellamy explained: If you are arrested in the prostitution exclusion zone — which encompasses Camp Greene Street, Freedom Drive, Morehead Street and Wilkinson Boulevard — for soliciting a crime against nature then you are pretty much banned from that area. “It’s like a territorial restriction,” he said.

And this restricted area is about more than just arresting prostitutes then turning them back on the street. Bellamy said when the police department has gone into the neighborhood to do sweeps, they partnered with social agencies like the McLeod Foundation and the Mecklenburg County Health Department to offer assistance to the sex workers arrested. “We try to give them some encouragement and help them get off the street,” he said about the partnership with the social agencies.

“Are there any girls still working?” Cochran asked. “Maybe one or two. We haven’t arrested any recently in Camp Greene. Those 90 to 100 girls that were in that neighborhood aren’t there anymore.”

After being arrested in the prostitution exclusion zone, the arrestee — either a john or a prostitute — can’t return to that area for a year. The exceptions are, said Cochran, if they live in that area or have legal business over there. Following the arrest, the person has to carry a form that details what they were arrested for. If they’re caught in the zone without it, Cochran said they can automatically be arrested again and then completely banned from the neighborhood. “After that year was up, we thought, we were going to have them come flooding back, but they didn’t,” he said.

As far as the johns go, Cochran said it’s rare that they find repeat offenders in the exclusion zone. Once they get that first arrest, they don’t return, which also helped in cleaning up Camp Greene.

“We had to stand up and take the neighborhood back,” Fincher said. “There were a lot of people sick of what was going on over here. If the drug dealers and the prostitutes go to a neighborhood where the neighbors don’t care, they are going to do what they want to do. We stopped letting them do what they want to do.”

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