Sheriff's Department launches new web page featuring mugshots of men caught soliciting prostitutes
Johns seeking prostitutes along East Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti Township could earn their 15 minutes of fame if they are arrested for the crime.
The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office is now posting mugshots of suspects on a new page intended to widely distribute their faces to the public.
So far, the faces of three men arrested in a September prostitution sting operation are published on the site, and the Sheriff’s department says it will notify the media as new photos are posted.
The photos will go on the site after the men are arraigned.
“It’s hopefully going to have a deterrent effect in the long term,” said Mike Radzik, Ypsilanti Township’s director of police services. “We’re trying to get the word out: ‘Don’t come to East Michigan Avenue to look for prostitutes because there are serious consequences.’”
The new effort targeting the demand side of the prostitution trade is part of the Enforcement Against Streetwalking in Ypsilanti (EASY) joint operation conducted by the Ypsilanti Police Department and Sheriff’s Department along East Michigan Avenue.
Businesses and residents have long complained about prostitution in the corridor, and the two departments teamed up because their jurisdictional boundaries cut through the area.
Despite making hundreds of arrests, the agencies haven’t seen much success in stemming the problem and are trying new approaches. The area is even listed on sex sites where johns can rate the prostitutes and alert one another to a crackdown by police. Previous AnnArbor.com stories on prostitution have appeared on at least one of the sites.
The Ypsilanti Police Department isn’t posting john’s pictures, so only those who are caught in Ypsilanti Township or the Sheriff Department’s jurisdiction will have their photos posted online. Ypsilanti Police Chief Amy Walker said posting johns’ photos is a policy decision made by City Council. Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said there was never a resolution on the question, but said he wasn't sure how effective posting the pictures would be.
Radzik said police officials now have a three-pronged approach in targeting the johns. If caught, johns will have their cars impounded and must pay the county $750 to get them back. That money is used to cover overtime costs for deputies on the undercover sting operations.
Johns are also criminally charged and sent to a “john school” at which women who were former prostitutes discuss the hardships of their former life. Radzik said it is similar to the victim-impact panel for drunken drivers.
The sting operations usually net around six to eight johns or prostitutes, depending on who is being targeted, but are only run intermittently because of logistical and financial challenges.
Sheriff's Lt. Jim Anuszkiewicz said the joint operation has been going well, and the departments have seen strong results. He said the photos are another tool.
"We’re hoping to send a message to individuals that decide to engage in this activity in Ypsilanti Township and Washtenaw County that their photo will be published," Anuszkiewicz said. " Whether this is a deterrent or not is yet to be seen. We have seen agencies around the country doing this and feel it could serve as an effective tool to addressing this historic issue.''
Radzik said the pictures of perpetrators will likely be online after they are arraigned, which will typically be within two weeks. A similar effort in Chicago that has proven successful was the inspiration for the department's program.
This year, EASY also implemented a new program designed to help pull prostitutes from the streets and offer resources to turn their lives around. The new program, which involves a collaboration between both departments, the judicial system and county social workers, was created after police regularly arrested the same repeat offenders.
Officials say they have seen some early successes in that program, and are hopeful posting the photos will offer another deterrent.