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Out With the Vice Unit: Prostitution Sting on Lankershim

A Los Angeles Police Department task force makes 32 arrests Thursday.

Prostitution along Lankershim Boulevard in Sun Valley has been an ongoing problem for years, but in an effort to combat the problem some men who cruised the street Thursday looking for a "car date" ended up spending their evenings with a police officer.

For the third time this year, Los Angeles Police Department vice units throughout the San Fernando Valley teamed up to carry out a task force operation on Lankershim that in the past has resulted with short term success in curbing the issue.

Three female officers went undercover as prostitutes, wearing scantily clothing and strolling the streets. When a male customer, referred to as a john, pulled up in a car or approached on foot and offered money in exchange for a sexual act, a nearby squad car would move in and make the arrest.

An 18-hour effort on Thursday netted 32 people, most were men but a few prostitutes were booked as well, the Daily News reported. In a February, police made 26 arrests.

Patch tagged along with Sgt. Trina Bluff, who works at LAPD's Van Nuys Station. She echoed concerns of locals who've long complained about prostitution along Lankershim.

"They'll come out in the morning and find used condoms in their driveways or the street," Bluff said.

She spent most of her afternoon shift sitting in an old Toyota situated on a small side street off Lankershim. She was out of uniform and had several walkie-talkies and transmitters placed on her lap.

One of the devices was receiving audio from a transmitter the undercovers kept in their purses.

Bluff said most male johns that are caught in the act don't return, but arresting them also has another trickle down effect.

"So if we can arrest more males that are coming here to solicit, hopefully that will send a message to stay out of the area, so if you don’t have customers, there’s no point in them coming here to work," she said.

Bluff constantly kept her eyes on the undercover who was standing at the corner of the street about 100 feet away.

The undercover was flanked on both sides by two other officers in regular clothing. One of them was casually walking around with his hands in his pockets, apparently trying to pass himself off as a neighborhood youth. The other was a man with scruffy hair who looked like a transient. He was leaning against a blank wall and kept nodding off.

These officers, who are armed with concealed guns, are referred to as "ped safety" and provide security in case one of the undercover sex workers is threatened.

While the undercover prostitutes' directive is to engage with johns, they occasionally have to interact with actual sex workers. One prostitute noticed that an undercover carried the same purse as another undercover earlier in the day.

"You're a cop," the woman said, almost jokingly, before quickly walking away. She was one of the few sex workers arrested that day when officers concluded that she was loitering prostitution.

Even when she's facing scenarios like that, Officer Erika Kirk, who posed as a prostitute Thursday, said she stays in character.

"You just have to keep to your cool and keep your undercover unless it’s a safety issue," she said.

In her seven years of undercover work, Kirk said she felt threatened once when she was chased by three gang members in 2007.

While still donning a short skirt, she said her biggest motivation for her work is to get young women off the street, especially those under 18 and were manipulated by pimps into selling their bodies on the street.

"Almost all these girls have pimps. . . . What a lot of people don’t know is that prostitutes are victims, theyr’e victims of pimping . . . if they're young women that are naive, especially juveniles, they don’t really have a voice, they haven’t had a lot of love growing up, that's why they choose this line of work. And so that that's where my passion lays, it's trying to help these young women understand that they are a victim."

Typically after each task force operation, reports of prostitution dwindle significantly in the area, said Sgt. Jesse Ojeda of Foothill Division's vice unit. The last one was conducted in May, but its success has faded in the past few weeks as some business owners said they've witnessed a small uptick.

"Definitely word gets out in the area when we’re making a lot of arrests, hopefully it curbs the activity, but it's never going to make it go away completely," Bluff said. "It’s an age-old profession that we’ll be ever able to get rid of but at least we can try to put a damper on it as much as we can."

Prostitutes and johns that are booked face misdemeanor charges. If johns have a valid ID and don't have any priors or outstanding warrants, they can be released a few hours after booking and when a court date is set.

It's not much longer before prostitutes are back on the street as well.

Bluff said she knows of prostitutes that are repeat offenders whose punishments include higher bail prices and no more than a few days to a few weeks behind bars.

She said stiffer penalties would be better at combating prostitution, but that doesn't mean she discouraged from making a dent in solving the problem.

"If you live in one of the houses here and your children come out in the morning to play and they find condoms on the street, that affects you, in turn it affects the whole community," Bluff said.

Click here for a list of all the people that were arrested on Thursday.

george October 05, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Wow, let me know if you ever need editing help, fumbled through this article trying to stay focused on the topic, not easy. Stiffer penalties would make a difference, nobody pays attention to misdemeanors, and if pimps are dealing in the sex trade and "victimizing" minors and older women, why aren't they felons? Time for some changes in this part of our justice system. Sex trafficking is a major crime, these guys should be treated no differently than big scale trafficker.
Jessica October 06, 2012 at 10:48 AM
I am an attorney and if anyone of these "johns" gets an attorney they will get off due to entrapment.
avengetheweak October 06, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I don't think entrapping yourself is a crime unless stupidity is a crime...
Craig Clough (Editor) October 06, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I'm not sure what kind of attorney you claim to be, Jessica, but these sting operations are common, not just in LA but all around the country. I am not making a claim to the guilt or innocence of the people arrested in this operation, but saying they all would get off automatically for entrapment does not sound accurate to me.
Jess October 06, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Paying for the sexual fantasies of cops. Female cops can have their "whore" fantasy, where they're so irresistible, men will pay to be with them. Male cops have their "Knight in Shining Armour" fantasy, where they swoop in at the last minute and save the fair maiden's virtue. Just legalize prostitution already.
Charles Ewing October 07, 2012 at 02:00 AM
They use condoms ???
Charles Ewing October 07, 2012 at 02:00 AM
They use condoms ???
Bill Payment October 07, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Seriously. This is why so many people really despise cops. While they are wasting resources on this,actual gang members are shooting babies in drive by's less than a mile away. These cops are a bunch of cowards....calling themselves stopping "crime". Prostitution should not even be a crime anyhow. The moralistic "neighborhood" quoted in the story are full of s-it. I'd wager all of them are far more immoral than the poor sods ENTRAPPED in this baloney "sting". The article writer is a brainwashed moron posing as an "impartial' journalist. What a joke you all are.
Craig Clough (Editor) October 07, 2012 at 06:28 AM
Bill, there have been no reported incidents of babies shot in drive-by shootings anywhere in North Hollywood or Sun Valley in the last two years. As to the rest of your comment, I think the writer has done a commendable piece of reporting. Debating the pros and cons of legalized prostitution -- of which there is zero political momentum or support for in California at the moment -- seems like a topic for another story on another day. You are enraged by gang violence, but you don't think that North Hollywood and Sun Valley's gang problems, drug problems and street prostitution problems are directly related? Many of the pimps who work this area of town are gang members.
Charles F October 07, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I am with you Bill. The police need to go after real crimes and arrest those who deserve to be locked up. Getting rid of prostitution won't end the senseless violence that plagues our streets on a daily basis. This is so ridiculous.
Craig Clough (Editor) October 07, 2012 at 06:58 PM
On Dec. 15, 2011, five men were charged with trafficking minors and forcing them into prostitution in North Hollywood. See the story here - http://patch.com/A-p304. Three of the men were admitted gang members. I would call this a "real" crime, and I also think it points out how much prostitution and gangs are tied together in North Hollywood and Sun Valley. You can't fight one and not the other.
Bill Payment October 08, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Mr.Clough,with all due respect,your comment reveals your naivete with local street life. I have grown up in the streets of the Eastern San Fernando Valley. I can tell you 100% factually that the gang and prostitution rackets around here are entirely separate. You know who else knows that for a fact? The LAPD and the local politicians who instead promote the threadbare lies that you are now parroting. I could not give less of a damn what the "current political momentum" is for rational solutions. Why? Because we all know that YOU(i.e the corporate media - your "Patch" local baloney isn't fooling anyone)do not represent the true feelings of the public. Rather you promote the lies of the government in conjunction with whatever corporation is funding your ignorance this week. You are a fraud. Good day, sir.
Shant K. October 11, 2012 at 06:50 AM
Also an attorney here. This isn't entrapment.
Lisa R December 09, 2012 at 06:12 AM
Like arresting johns is going to have one single affect upon the trafficking of children. I am unclear as to how anyone has any jurisdiction over what consenting adults chose to do with their own bodies behind closed doors. Police your jobs are to protect and serve the citizens. You are not to instigate crimes, conduct illegal activity to combat crime, profile us, use your tazers haphazardly, and ever fatally shoot anyone (control yourselves, get proper training, & be nothing less than an expert marksman!) Yes police, your job is to enforce our laws, but get real - you have great latitude to decide which laws to put your focus on (the feds-law of the land- say no medicinal marajuana. Calif is still a part of the union.) police are out of hand and out of control. They are a danger to society. Law enforcement of today does not serve the citizens. They flatly need to be stopped. I, as a citizen, hired the law enforcement, and I hereby declare that your services are no longer needed, and a new citizen force should takes its place.

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