Community pressure has gone a long way toward battling prostitution in Buffalo. The formation of the Prostitution Task Force in the early 1990s yielded stepped-up prosecution by police and the courts as well as educational programs targeting prostitutes and their customers.
About two dozen people were present Wednesday as the task force, seeking to build its voice and the pressure, reviewed what has worked and recommended further action.
"Today was a plea to get more people to join us to make that happen," said Hillary Clarke, who has presided over the task force for six years.
The task force recommended that it continue its role in bringing people together to work on the issue. It also called for continuing police crackdowns on prostitution, especially on men who patronize prostitutes; programs like the so-called john school for first-time offenders; and rehabilitation for prostitutes through services offered at Beacon Center and TRY House.
Because of the lack of women among officers in the police Narcotics-Vice Bureau to act as decoys, the flood of prostitution-related arrests in the mid-'90s had slowed to barely a trickle by last summer.
Capt. Mark Morgan said Wednesday that women from the districts now are assigned to the unit for 45 days at a time. Since late August, 440 vice-related arrests, including 215 for patronizing prostitutes, have been made, he noted.
Detective David Sugg, a longtime vice officer, offered encouragement.
"The pressure comes from this task force right here, in us keeping the female (officers) up there (in the unit)," he said. "If you keep the pressure, . . . that's how things get done. It's doing something."
John school, a day of in-your-face lectures about the consequences of patronizing prostitutes, also appears to be accomplishing something, according to those involved in the effort. Of the 514 men who have been through the program since its inception in the fall of 1996, only four have been arrested again, said Donna Mohan-Grace, its local founder.
"The men come in in the morning; they're angry, depressed -- some of them are suicidal," she said. "At the end of the day, many people walk up to us and thank us for saving their lives."
The task force also recommended continuing john TV, which features the names and photographs of men convicted at least three times of patronizing a prostitute.
It has aired only once -- in February 1998. The city reportedly has not had any additional three-time offenders since then, Clarke said.
Another recommendation calls for greater use of social services to help prostitutes who want to get out of the business. This would include drug rehabilitation, transitional housing and day care as well as transportation.
A new part of the strategy involves environmental changes, including improved lighting and traffic management, to discourage prostitution.
In conjunction with the U.S. attorney's office, drug-house abatement efforts should target multiple-unit dwellings that harbor prostitution, the task force said.
"We haven't really acted on any of these except to continue existing programs," Clarke said.