Our view: Waste and worry

The Syracuse Police Department's six-month prostitution stakeout, which netted 36 arrests in April, got renewed attention this week with the release of more than 200 pages of police documents detailing each arrest.

It appears the department spent six months using undercover officers to pose as both female prostitutes and male "johns," placing ads in print and online to lure people on both sides of the transaction to department-leased apartments in the city. That is, the police spent six months, and several thousands of dollars.

Much of the public reaction we've noticed to this long-term effort questions whether this is an appropriate way to spend police resources and tax dollars. The community seems to be worrying that, for every alleged prostitute and accused john arrested, a violent criminal or drug dealer has been allowed to run the streets.

Certainly, that's not the case, as the Syracuse police have continued to make arrests and investigate crimes while the prostitution sting was in place.

But the community's concerns have driven us to question what happens to an individual after they have been charged with prostitution in Syracuse.

The penalty in New York State for prostitution, a misdemeanor, is a $500 fine and/or up to three months in jail.

The penalty for customers is stiffer: up to one year behind bars and/or $1,000 fine. Pimps and brothel owners are both subject to seven years and/or $5,000.

Consider this: in a 2008 study, 41.4 percent of women and 11.2 percent of men in a voluntary substance abuse program reported selling prostitution services in the previous year.

Without question, those who've found themselves selling sex for money tend not to be in an overall healthy and productive place in their lives. They need help, not an elongated criminal record.

Unfortunately, we weren't immediately able to nail down what, if any, support is offered to people charged with prostitution.

But finding out if we provide resources to help those people get their lives back on track after they've served their time will correspond directly to whether or not we feel this is an effective use of police resources.

It's an issue we intend to dive into further, so look for more on this in an upcoming issue of The Eagle.

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