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Tampa City Council may be trying too hard with prostitution crackdown

Listen, I am all for a good, Giuliani-esque, Times Square-style cleanup of Tampa.

City neighborhoods long plagued by drug dealers, hookers, johns and all they leave behind deserve a good and constant scouring of such things. With lye soap, if we can find it.

So I hate to sound like a naysayer in the fight against crime here. But the Tampa City Council looks to be getting ready to overreach on this very subject — maybe for the right reasons, but maybe to the wrong end.

Tampa has made a lot of progress on this front in recent years, in particular against the men who make the city's street prostitution trade oh so viable in certain parts of town.

Police officers, citizens and neighborhood groups have fought back hard against this sad business. But it seems always ready to creep back to where kids walk to school and elderly people wait for buses, like some tough Florida mildew against which you have to be constantly vigilant.

So on Thursday, the City Council is expected to give a final vote to an ordinance aimed at buyers of both drugs and sex. It has a great talk-tough sound to it.

If someone's using a car to pick up a prostitute, it's taken away on arrest. We already do this, but the person usually has to pay less than $150 in towing and storage to get his car back.

The new rule would smack that bad boy with a fat $500 fine before he could get his wheels. How's that, chump?

It's no surprise that the change is supported by residents and citizen groups from Ybor City to east Tampa to Seminole Heights. Who can blame people for wanting a tool to fight back?

But what about that important idea of how we're all considered innocent until proven guilty? Isn't this like assessing a penalty before a crime is proven?

And doesn't it sound like piling on for what is usually considered a relatively minor crime, even if it's one we find especially sleazy?

Here's another consideration: How about the new rule's potential for victimizing families with only one car, as is often the case these days?

(This was specifically mentioned by council member Mary Mulhern, who cast the lone "no" vote for the ordinance at a previous meeting. Mulhern, who also spoke out against the city's ban on panhandling, is starting to sound like an elected official with a notably empathetic ear for hard times, even when it involves a group with whom we find it hard to empathize.)

And finally, does anyone really believe someone who is so inclined will stop and think: Well, I was going to go out and pick up a hooker or a couple of joints, but boy, that fee's pretty steep. Guess I'll stay home and watch Jerry Springer instead.

Here are some real quality-of-life issues citizens need a city to focus on: Streets that are safe enough to actually bike on or even — not to get too crazy here — walk down without serious risk of being mowed over in traffic. And street lights and sidewalks before, not after, a horrible tragedy like the recent incident in which a pregnant woman was killed trying to cross an east Tampa street.

We need thoughtful, creative solutions for communities that have long been hardest hit.

Not big gestures likely to have little or no impact on cleaning up our streets.

Tampa City Council may be trying too hard with prostitution crackdown 12/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 8:16pm]
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