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12-13-2006, 08:44 AM
The Village hooker: Gwinnett fights prostitution

By GEORGE CHIDI (gchidi@ajc.com)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/12/06 The Craigslist ads don't say sex for sale in Norcross.
They do offer "erotic services." The postings on the online bulletin board generally don't ask directly for money. They refer to "125 kisses" or "150 roses" as a donation for an hour of service. Nude or semi-nude pictures follow the text. Faces usually remain hidden.
The text is almost always graphic but never explicit. Often, the text warns callers up front that the ads won't be discussed over the phone.
Norcross police and area civic leaders say people come from around metro Atlanta to the area's hotel rooms and apartments, drawn by ads on Craigslist and in the alternative press.
The police routinely monitor Craigslist and other Web sites, looking for people who might be selling sex online, Norcross Police Chief Dallas Stidd said.
"We will work an undercover detail when we see it come up," he said.
The department keeps one eye on the ads, and the other on a few hotels and motels around Brook Hollow Parkway and Indian Trail Lilburn Road, he said. His officers arrested about 125 people in that area for offering to pay for sex this year, he said. Many were coming from metro Atlanta. None were from Norcross, he said.
"All of them were from out of town," Stidd said. "Now the word of mouth is that there's a lot of police activity there."
A long-standing issue
City and county police have been fighting prostitution in areas around Norcross for years, but a recent consultant's report shined a spotlight on the severity of the problem.
The Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District a self-taxing business association commissioned New York-based The CrimeFighters LLC to produce a report on crime in its area earlier this year.
Gwinnett Village's boundaries run roughly along Beaver Ruin Road, Buford Highway, Singleton Road and the Dekalb County line. The area represents about 12 percent of the county's population and only about 4 percent of its territory.
But nearly two out of three arrests Gwinnett County police made for prostitution, pimping and related crimes came out of Gwinnett Village last year. A little less than half of the county's prostitution arrests were made in Gwinnett Village this year. But the ratio decreased only because more arrests were made in other parts of the county, figures from the study and the Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office show.
Suggestions from The CrimeFighters LLC called for a host of changes adding more police, rigorous code enforcement and a war on street gangs, for example. High on the list was a zero-tolerance policy for prostitution.
Fighting prostitution looks like one of the easier problems to tackle, Gwinnett Village executive director Chuck Warbington said.
"A lot of them were great ideas, but I don't know how much we can do right up front," Warbington said. But there's no strong constituency preventing a crackdown on commercial sex, he said.
The consultant's proposal called for unannounced inspections by police and code compliance officers at hotels. The proposal called for courts to issue injunctions barring prostitutes from trouble spots. It called for ubiquitous digital video surveillance. And it called for cease-and-desist orders to force business owners to eliminate conditions for prostitution to continue.
"The main, important thing is to recognize where these problems are happening," said Shiv Aggarwal, chairman of the Gwinnett Village CID and owner of Global Mall in Norcross.
Neither the police nor the CID can implement all the ideas at once, he said. County police are short-staffed in Gwinnett Village, he said. The county has 83 officers assigned to the Westside precinct, 23 less than the authorized staffing level, police said. The CID plans to either hire off-duty police officers or private security, Aggarwal said. But first, hotel and motel owners need to get with the program, he said.
"We have to stop those things like renting rooms by the hour," he said. "What does that mean? It's an incentive program for prostitution. They should not do that."
Fixing the problem
The Gwinnett Village CID says crime is a deterrent to economic growth. In June, the group sent a landscaping crew into a ravine near the Knight's Inn on Brook Hollow Parkway to chop away underbrush where homeless people and prostitutes congregate. It was one of the first activities funded by the group.
Warbington suggested that county government could begin looking at revoking some hotels' business licenses, "if businesses aren't playing by the rules," he said. That hasn't happened yet.
The Gwinnett County Police Department refused to make thecommander for the precinct covering Gwinnett Village or the head of the county's vice unit available for comment. The department also refused to identify trouble spots, or the property owners who may be facilitating the crime by turning a blind eye, Cpl. Darren Moloney said.
"These business establishments relay to us information and allow us to come onto their property and use their facilities in a covert manner," Moloney wrote in an e-mail. "All they ask from us in return is that they remain as anonymous as possible. Our ability to do our jobs would be greatly compromised and the public would be at a tremendous disservice if this relationship were jeopardized."
But Gwinnett prosecutors had considered moving against the business license of the former owner of the Knight's Inn. A Los Angeles-based investor bought the Knight's Inn earlier this year and cleaned up the place.
The hotel staff began evicting problem residents. It also started to train a more skeptical eye on some of its potential guests, said Paul Lee, a desk clerk who came to the job as new management.
"Seriously, it's how people portray themselves," he said. The hotel often rejects people without proper identification, or who have been cruising in and out of the parking lot, apparently looking for prostitutes, he said.
Keeping a 24-hour desk watch has been an effective tactic, he said. Some other hotels in the area withdraw their staff at night, a move he said invites problems.
Knight's Inn also has been a staging area for prostitution stings, arresting clients and prostitutes, he said.
"The word gets out fast," he said. "That's one of the reasons [prostitutes] tend to come here less than other places."