OAKLAND – Undercover Oakland police officers dressed in provocative clothing hit the streets of the Fruitvale District Wednesday night as part of a new campaign to crack down on prostitution.
Police Chief Richard Word said the prostitution “Beat Feet'' operation is designed to address a growing problem with a troubling new face: younger and more vulnerable prostitutes.
“We're seeing networks of these young girls being abused by their pimps,” he said.
Word emphasized that cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions is key to tackling a problem without borders.
A similar operation in Oakland last week resulted in 26 arrests of men suspected of soliciting prostitution, 24 vehicle seizures and arrests of four suspected pimps who allegedly attempted to recruit the undercover officers.
In the first 30 minutes of operation tonight, the officers netted five arrests. The undercover decoys and arrest teams planned to work the streets for about eight hours, until 2 a.m. Thursday.
City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente said the notion that prostitution is a victimless crime is a myth.
“We know of more than 200 young girls that are working the streets of Oakland right now,” De La Fuente said. “And they are working for pimps who take all their money and, in many cases, beat and torture them to keep
them working on the streets.”
Lt. Benson H. Fairow of the Vice/Narcotics Division said the new initiative is part of a trend to focus more on the customers, men who solicit prostitutes, rather than on the prostitutes themselves.
“Traditionally you go out and arrest the females, the prostitutes,” Fairow said. “Now we tend to look at them more as victims.”
He said that some of the prostitutes working the streets of Oakland are in their early teens.
De La Fuente said the city is considering a handful of support measures to attack the problem, including implementing enhanced penalties and fines against those who solicit prostitution and developing diversion
programs for prostitutes and pimps.
Under state law, solicitation of prostitution is classified as a misdemeanor. However, the Police Department seizes the vehicles of those who solicit prostitutes, essentially meaning that they must “buy back” their cars, police said.
City Manager Robert C. Bobb said that tonight's operation is part of a comprehensive police action plan finalized by Chief Word this afternoon.
“Every week in the city of Oakland there will be a different targeted criminal group,” Bobb said, describing the overall plan. “It will range from prostitution to drug dealers to individuals who are currently engaged in homicide and who are still out on the street.”