Just last week, the oldest profession in the world was doing booming business in Salt Lake City. But in just a few days, prostitution has nearly gone bust.
After citizens groups living in the State Street area between 900 South and 2100 South loudly complained to city and county officials last week, action was taken that seems to have nearly solved the problem of increased prostitution in the area.Now, instead of simply issuing citations to hookers caught soliciting sex (citations that usually get ripped up and ignored), vice squad officers are being allowed to throw the women into the overcrowded Salt Lake County Jail - something they haven't been able to do for some time.
"We have seen a drastic drop in the number of prostitutes flagrantly walking the streets," said Salt Lake Police Lt. Roger Kinnersley, who heads the city's vice squads.
Residents say they, too, are amazed at the difference they've seen in just a few days time.
"This has really curbed the problem," said Leora Thomas. "I could stand on my front sidewalk day and night and see all the business transpiring. I could count at least five on any single day. Now we don't see any!"
Until last week, the jail had space to house only about 30 female prisoners. Jail officials had no choice but to turn away officers hoping to lock up their arrested prostitutes. The hookers would be given a citation and sent on their way - usually right back to the corner where they were arrested.
But Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward has opened up additional space at the jail, has contracted with other facilities and plans to reshuffle space away from the area housing male prisoners to make room for about 100 female inmates.
"We've done a lot of things to help solve this problem," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Charles Shepherd.
But Salt Lake Police Capt. Aaron Kennard, who is running against Hayward in this year's sheriff race, said the shuffle at the jail is simply an election-campaign ploy to garner votes.
"It's the citizenry that came up in arms and forced him to do something. That's the only reason he (Hayward) did it," Kennard said, adding that law enforcement officers have been pestering him for years asking for similar actions to alleviate jail problems.
"In other words, he was saying, `Stick it in your ear, law enforcement.' "
Kennard said that after the election, he believes the jail problem - and therefore the prostitution problem - will return."Mark my words, he'll refuse again, saying there's no space," Kennard said.
But Shepherd said there is absolutely no indication to believe the proposed shuffle will be only a short-term solution.
Kinnersley said his officers could spot as many as 17 known prostitutes working at any one time. Although his squad would make arrests and issue citations, it did little good since the hookers knew they weren't going to jail.
The word was out, and prostitutes from Montana, Oregon, California and other areas headed to Salt Lake City to walk the streets, he said. Now, they appear to be going back home.
"So long as we're able to arrest and book into jail the female prostitutes, the solution appears to be had," he said.
And although the hookers' customers still only receive citations, he said, that will likely change when the Oxbow facility is finished next year.
"The day is coming when I intend to put the prostitutes and their customers behind bars," Kinnersley said.
In the meantime, residents who said they couldn't walk to a next-door neighbor without getting propositioned said they hope life in their neighborhood will remain normal.
"It's just fabulous what you can do, bringing these things to the commission," said Verlyn Thomas. "We're going to be right on the problem until they're all gone."