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Killings spur Ogden crackdown on sex trade

Published: Saturday, Aug. 16 2008 12:32 a.m. MDT

Ogden detective Jeremy Nelson speaks with Susan after pulling the vehicle she was riding in over in a prostitution sting. She allegedly made a verbal agreement to exchange sexual acts for money to an undercover officer. According to the Ogden Police Department, drugs play an integral role in Ogden's prostitution problem.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

OGDEN — The car slowed as it drove past the woman meandering along Adams Avenue. It made a U-turn and then pulled over to the curb.

The woman walked up to the passenger window, leaning over to talk.

"Hey, how's it going?"

"You working?" he asks.

"I'm workin'. What're you lookin' for?"

"How much?"

"Tell me what you want, and I'll tell you how much," she said, straight to the point. "What do you want for 20 bucks?"

"$20? Uh, everything."

"You want everything? You want sex?"

"Yeah."

"All right, meet me around the corner. Just pick me up right around the corner."

The man drove around the corner, and an Ogden police car came up on him, lights flashing. The man was stopped on Washington Boulevard and arrested on a charge of soliciting sex.

Police here are trying to get tough on prostitution, which has received renewed public scrutiny after the July 13 killings of two women who worked the streets. Ogden police's metro gang unit, which doubles as its vice squad, allowed a Deseret News reporter and photographer to accompany them on two nights of a prostitution bust to see the issues they face.

Everywhere

The women wander down the same streets, stand on a corner, or sit for hours on a porch, doing nothing in particular. Their customers drive by, slowly, pulling over and engaging in nervous conversations that lead to "business deals."

Sexual solicitation is a class B misdemeanor, unless there are prior arrests. Sometimes police arrest the same woman again and again. If that happens, she goes to jail.

Prostitution is a problem in every big city and even in the suburbs, thanks to the Internet.

"The girls on the street go for $20. On the Internet, it's $300 to get her to the motel room," said Lt. Loring Draper, who is over the squad.

Knowing it's illegal, both prostitutes and johns are wary of each other.

"Are you police?" a woman asks a man working undercover, demanding that he expose himself. "That's the only way I'm going to get in the car."

"I don't show without the go," the decoy replies. Listening to the conversation in an unmarked car parked nearby, detectives Jeremy Nelson and Jon Hill snicker at the remark.

"That's the only way I get in the car," she said. "That's how I know you're not a cop."

The woman finally gets in the car, but she's still paranoid. Inside their car, Nelson and Hill are recording the conversation. The woman eventually leaves, with no deal made.

Draper disputes claims that prostitution is a victimless crime.

"You've got all these issues," he said. "The girls get robbed, they get raped, they get beat up all the time. They get sexually transmitted diseases. They get killed. The johns get robbed, they get beat up, STDs, it destroys family lives."

Along Jefferson Avenue, charming historic homes give way to drugs and prostitution on the streets. Ogden police have recently gotten tough in this downtown residential area, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the city's crime. A special crime unit has made the streets quieter, but things are still busy.

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