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Anti-Prostitution Proposal Targets Solicitors' Cars

November 20, 2002|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Police would be empowered to seize the cars of people who solicit prostitutes under an ordinance proposed by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Saying his 4th District constituents are fed up with crime on their doorsteps, LaBonge called for the new tool for police in their fight against street prostitution that plagues Sunset Boulevard and other areas.

"If a person solicits a prostitute, their car can be impounded for 30 days" under the proposal, LaBonge said. "If they are caught soliciting again, their car can be forfeited."

LaBonge sought support Tuesday from the Los Angeles Police Commission, which delayed action pending a final version of the law from the Los Angeles city attorney's office.

Solicitation normally is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, but LaBonge proposed that the city attorney would use civil courts to seize vehicles.

LaBonge told commissioners that the California Supreme Court in 1999 upheld a similar ordinance. Cities including Stockton and Oakland have already enacted such laws.

Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the organization opposes the proposal because the vehicles would be taken without giving the owners their due process rights.

LAPD Capt. Michael Downing of the Hollywood Division said there has been a rise in prostitution in his area. Citywide last year, 3,362 adults and 313 juveniles were arrested for prostitution.

Downing said a recent patrol using undercover female officers netted 19 to 20 solicitors. "If this law passes, I'd run a trick task force every day to get the message out: If you come to solicit a prostitution in Hollywood, you'll lose your car."

Some commissioners expressed skepticism. Commissioner Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Motors Inc., asked how the law would deal with leased or borrowed vehicles.

Commissioner Silvia Saucedo, an attorney, asked whether people who are not convicted of a crime would be subject to the forfeiture provisions.

Supporters assured Saucedo that the ordinance would apply only to those of solicitation.

LaBonge said he does not expect to stop prostitution, but argued that his idea could help clear Sunset Boulevard of trash, such as used condoms.

Police Chief William J. Bratton has said that the department needs to do more to tackle prostitution. A centerpiece of his strategy is that by attacking such quality-of-life crimes, the department can reduce more serious crimes.

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