Beginning Friday, the mug shots and names of 60 men arrested for patronizing prostitutes in Buffalo in recent months will be available for viewing on the Buffalo Police Department’s website – www.bpdny.org.
It is the next step in an undercover operation that is now going very public – making the faces, names and municipalities where the johns live available for everyone to see.
The hope is that it will frighten away future customers of prostitutes by shaming those already caught and charged.
Buffalo Narcotics and Vice Squad detectives began a sting operation in July with female detectives posing as decoy prostitutes at various locations on the East Side and West Side. Police operated in neighborhoods where residents have complained for years about the illegal trade attracting strangers into their neighborhoods and the accompanying crimes associated with prostitution: drug dealing, assaults and robberies.
“We have been locking up prostitutes for years, and the problem keeps coming back,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said. “Now we’re going to try a different approach. We’re not only locking up the prostitutes, but their customers, and publicizing it. Maybe that will deter people from seeking the services of prostitutes. If there are no customers, it will put them out of business.”
The mug shots will remain on the police website for months at a time, the commissioner said. If others are caught, they, too, will have their images posted.
Derenda said that prostitution is occurring in neighborhoods already battered by hard times and that residents, many with children, should not have to put up with the added intrusion of often drug-addicted prostitutes and men from outside the neighborhood roaming their streets.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” he said.
Publicizing the pictures and names of johns has been done elsewhere, including Nassau County on Long Island, where 104 suspected johns were arrested three months ago in “Operation Flush the Johns.” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice, in justifying the approach, said it was a well-known fact that “the perceived risk of getting caught” is often enough to dramatically impact certain crimes.
Not everyone agrees public embarrassment will stop johns.
Charles P. Ewing, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist and attorney at the University at Buffalo who specializes in the psychology of crime, says that in this case, the punishment may exceed the crime.
“Think of how harsh this penalty is. You’re talking about destroying somebody’s life and reputation by putting their names and photographs on the Internet that may be accessible for months, years or indefinitely,” Ewing said. “Nothing goes away on the Internet.”
As for the frustration of police and residents, Ewing said he realizes that prostitution contributes to the “decline and misery of neighborhoods” and is hardly a victimless crime.
The women who work as prostitutes, he said, “are exploited by pimps and drug dealers who are taking advantage of their vulnerability in order to make money.”
But Ewing wonders whether this new tactic will succeed. “Police believe it will deter, but I do not think there is any empirical evidence that it does,” he said.
Frustrated by years of stings that have only temporarily removed prostitutes and johns from neighborhoods, police cited a 64-year-old Town of Tonawanda man caught in the undercover operation as a good reason to at least try a new approach.
After being arrested and released pending court proceedings, the man again returned to Buffalo in search of a prostitute and was arrested a second time for propositioning an undercover female police detective.
“Arresting these individuals isn’t always enough to correct their wayward behavior,” Chief of Detective Dennis J. Richards said.
“There are a number of tactics, and the publishing of the johns’ pictures is just one of the tactics to combat street-level prostitution complaints.”
About two-thirds of the johns arrested since July are city residents, and the remainder are mostly from nearby suburbs. The customers ranged in age from 17 to 73.