Prostitution crackdown considered in West Palm Beach

The mere talk of sex might lead to arrest

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - As City Commissioners weigh a proposed crackdown on prostitution that would give West Palm Beach police officers greater latitude to arrest prostitutes and their johns, some Riviera Beach residents worried whether the potential crackdown would push prostitution into their city.

"I don't think it's going to be healthy for the city," said Richard Price, a Riviera Beach resident. "It's not going to be good for our young people at all."

Under a current city ordinance, police officers in West Palm Beach can arrest someone for prostitution, but only if money has changed hands.

The proposed change to the ordinance -- modeled similar to ones in Tampa and Los Angeles -- the mere talk of sex with an undercover officer would be enough to subject someone to arrest.

"It's giving our police officers [and] our community another way of cleaning up a problem that has been around, um, almost since the dawn of time," said Elliot Cohen, a City of West Palm Beach spokesperson. "Any time you work to eradicate any kind of problem in one particular area you run the risk that it's going to migrate to another area. But, that shouldn't prevent you from trying to clean up your own area. Nobody wants prostitution in their neighborhood."

Part of a broader prostitution crackdown, the City of West Palm Beach recently began posting the photographs of repeat offenders on a police department Web site.

In Riviera Beach, a city which has struggled to rid its streets of prostitution and crime,  there are fresh worries.

"That's not good for the young people growing up," said Elsie St. Louis, a West Palm Beach resident who does business in Riviera Beach. "That's a negative influence [for] them."

A public hearing on the proposed crackdown was scheduled for Monday, July 9th.

If City Commissioners approved the change to the ordinance, the changes would go into effect on July 19th.

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