LYNWOOD — A simple picture book, not unlike the family album, is the latest weapon in the law enforcement battle against prostitution along Long Beach Boulevard.
"The hooker book," said Lynwood City Prosecutor Martin Mayer, allows uniformed sheriff's deputies to arrest convicted prostitutes who are violating the terms of their probation.
With the cooperation of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the consent of Robert Mackey, presiding judge of Compton Municipal Court, deputies at the Lynwood substation last month started collecting color photographs of prostitutes arrested in the area.
The photographs with the prostitutes' arrest records are collected in two black, three-ring notebooks. Patrolling deputies carry copies of the photographs and check with the substation to determine if a suspect spotted loitering on the boulevard is violating her probation.
A person cannot be arrested on suspicion of prostitution without an overt act of solicitation, which would include propositioning a deputy or the deputy overhearing a customer being solicited, Mayer said.
However, probation can prohibit someone previously convicted of prostitution from hitchhiking, interfering with traffic or flagging motorists to the curbs, renting any motel or hotel room in certain areas that are not the suspect's residence and associating with a known pimp or panderer, he said..
On Nov. 9, a prostitute arrested with the hooker book's help was sentenced to four years in Sybil Brand Institute For Women in East Los Angeles by Mackey. Through the use of the picture book and computer records, deputies discovered that the 26-year-old woman had 17 arrests for prostitution and drug-related offenses. She was convicted of violating probation in 11 of the prostitution cases and for possession of drugs and drugs for sale, Mackey said.
"Because they use different names at the time of arrest, it is hard to keep track" of the prostitutes, Mackey said. But by using a number of different sources, law enforcement agencies are better able to determine who has been charged with what.
"The system has been able to catch them faster," he said.
Lynwood is not the first city to try the hooker-book approach, Mayer said. Stanton in Orange County started the system two years ago and found it successful and not in violation of constitutional rights, Mayer said.
The snapshot book is only the latest tool to be used by sheriff's deputies to try to keep Long Beach Boulevard, a major city street, free of prostitution, Lt. William Sieber said.
In conjunction with the book, the Sheriff's Department used a special task force made up of undercover vice officers and patrol deputies along a one-mile stretch of the boulevard, Sieber said. The task force was formed at the request of the City Council, he said.
During the one-month operation, the task force made 114 misdemeanor arrests, including 38 for prostitution, and 45 felony arrests for charges including robbery, burglary, narcotics offenses and assault with a deadly weapon.
"We are not naive enough to believe prostitution will go away. It can be like a revolving door. But we can cause an enormous deterrent," said Sieber, who is in charge of operations at the Lynwood substation.
Due to complaints from citizens over the years, city officials have made the cleanup of prostitution along the street a major priority, recently elected Councilwoman Evelyn Wells said.
"Two years ago people just got fed up. Children were being harassed. Women walking along the streets were accosted by men believing they were prostitutes," said Wells, who marched with about 150 others to protest the proliferation of streetwalkers.
"The prostitutes had become so brazen that they would sit outside on the hoods of cars during the day and flag potential customers over," said Sgt. Clyde French.
"I was even propositioned as I drove along the boulevard on my way to work," said Bernard Lake, president of the Lynwood Chamber of Commerce and one of those who had asked for a cleanup of Long Beach Boulevard.
Following the citizen protest, the City Council made it illegal for a hotel or motel to rent a room to the same person for more than once in a 12-hour period.
"With the cooperation of the hotel and motel owners," Lake said, another dent was put in the prostitution business, which law enforcement officers say can bring a streetwalker up to to $400 a day.
"It is very difficult to control the activity," said Paul Solanki, president of the Lynwood Motel and Hotel Assn., which supported the ordinance.
He said that, on occasion, prostitutes and their pimps have "parked cars, which they used as offices, on the streets. They use the phones in front of the businesses to make contacts. Some businesses have had their phone booths removed."