"I know the lady you were talking to in your car," the vice squad officer told the middle-aged man. "I know because I've arrested her four times for prostitution. I know what you're doing here and you know what you're here for."
The man had picked up the young woman at a bus bench on Sepulveda Boulevard minutes earlier. The two turned into a quiet residential street off the boulevard and had parked in a small apartment parking lot across the street from an elementary school.
When police pulled up, the woman darted out of the car and the man insisted that she had merely asked for a ride.
In vice squad jargon, police call it a "street date," meaning that sex for money is quickly performed inside a car.
Nearby residents call it repulsive.
On the side streets of Sepulveda Boulevard, from Nordhoff Street to Ventura Boulevard, a movement is growing among hundreds of residents and business people to stop the prostitution that has begun to spill into their neighborhoods.
Neighborhood watch groups are organizing, and petitions have been been circulated and sent to politicians and police. The local Chamber of Commerce has formed an "action committee" on the issue. In the past two weeks police have put a special squad on the boulevard.
Several residents have talked of organizing large protests with posters and placards on corners where prostitutes gather if the situation does not improve.
"Sepulveda Boulevard has turned into the No. 1 spot in the Valley for prostitution," said Los Angeles Police Capt. Arthur Sjoquist. "It's gotten so bad out there traffic has come to a complete stop because five or six cars are lined up to make a deal."
"There is a crying need for something to be done," said Mark Lirman, who helped organize a neighborhood watch for residents living near the 6800 block of Sepulveda in Van Nuys. "There is real deep-seated concern about this. I think the community is really going to begin to apply pressure."
Prostitution along the boulevard has been a longtime problem, in part because of the 30 motels along the strip, some advertising day rates as low as $10 and $12. Also, police said, recent drives to sweep prostitution off Hollywood Boulevard has brought more prostitution to the Valley.
"The Hollywood cleanups have resulted in a lot of the business coming out here," Sjoquist said. "Sepulveda Boulevard seems to be somewhat famous in the same way that Hollywood Boulevard is."
Since January, Van Nuys Division police have arrested 376 adults on suspicion of prostitution and related offenses such as lewd conduct and obstructing traffic. By the end of the year, police said, they expect more than 600 arrests to be made, about a 23% increase over 1984.
Prostitution arrests have more than quadrupled in the Van Nuys Division since 1980, when 96 arrests were made. For the past two years, police have conducted at least four undercover enforcement operations a year, which, along with their regular patrols, yielded 427 arrests in 1983 and 460 arrests in 1984.
It has been in the last six to nine months that both residents and police say the street dates have dramatically increased in the residential areas off Sepulveda Boulevard.
"I think they want to stay off the boulevard and hit the side streets because they can talk longer and negotiate a price without being seen," said Duane Hensel, who lives one block away from Sepulveda Boulevard.
Pauline Purnell, the office manager of United Methodist Church of Sepulveda, said she was particularly offended when street dates began to occur in the church parking lot in the afternoon.
'I Was Outraged'
"It was repulsive," she said. "First it was a truck and they parked in the back lot. Then it was a van, then it was a car. They just kept parking closer and closer to the street--more out in the open. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I went out there and stared right at them and they left."
"I was outraged," said Maxine Shuh, who lives several houses away from the boulevard. "They were using my front yard for their place of business. The girls would sit on the curb in front of my house and the men would drive by slowly and pick them up.
"There are used condoms all over the street," Shuh said. "Several times I have seen children playing up and down the street saying, 'Ooooh, there's one; ooooh, there's one.' I feel like I have to guard my girls. I never let them out of the house alone."
Further fueling the residents' anger is that men seeking prostitutes often proposition neighborhood women or make lewd offers to teen-age girls.
"Ladies from the neighborhood just walking to the market get hit on by guys right off the bat," said Officer Jack Aquino. Police said that, because Sepulveda Boulevard prostitutes generally dress casually in shorts, tennis shoes or sun dresses, it is hard to know the difference between a woman simply waiting to cross the street or a woman waiting to be picked up for paid sex.