TAMPA — Hillsborough County authorities are looking for ways to make it easier for authorities to arrest suspected prostitutes working the streets in unincorporated areas.
Borrowing from the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, county commissioners are considering passing a law making it illegal to participate in activities that signal an intent to sell sex.
Potentially illegal activities would include "strolling" along public rights of way while waving to or trying to stop passing motorists, or repeatedly entering different vehicles for short periods of time. Touching oneself in a provocative manner could also be grounds for arrest.
The ordinance would also seek to thwart suspected prostitutes and their customers from trying to identify undercover officers. It would make it illegal for the suspected prostitute or customer to ask someone if they are a law enforcement officer. It would also be illegal to ask someone to prove they aren't an officer by asking them to expose themselves.
Today, Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies rely on state laws that typically require an undercover officer to get a prostitute or customer to agree to exchange sex for money before making an arrest.
"That's the bottom line," said Sheriff's Maj. J. R. Burton, who oversees a district that covers some of the county's biggest problem areas for prostitution, including transient neighborhoods near the University of South Florida. "We don't have to have the request of money for sex."
Commission Chairman Al Higginbotham pushed Wednesday for the new rules, describing prostitution as a detriment to economic development. He said he recently spoke to a developer who had a prospective tenant pass on a project because of prostitution activity in the area under consideration.
While he said he holds no expectation that the measure will end prostitution, he rejected characterizations that it is a victimless crime. He cited statistics showing many prostitutes are teenagers, are often victims of violence and tend to abuse drugs.
"This is no story about a pretty woman," Higginbotham said.
In other action:
• Commissioner Les Miller withdrew a proposal to give preference to companies in the region that want to do business with the county. Local business groups said the proposal could spawn similar rules in other counties that block them from landing work elsewhere.
• Commissioners unanimously rejected a request by Property Appraiser Rob Turner to rescind the recent appointment of Odessa resident Sara Cucchi to the Value Adjustment Board. The board hears appeals from people challenging their property valuation by Turner's office. Turner claimed a lawsuit Cucchi joined involving his office suggested a possible bias, but commissioners disagreed.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]