Berkeley police say they are responding to neighborhood complaints of rampant prostitution on San Pablo Avenue. But merchants say police efforts have made no impact.
On Sept. 27 the department’s special enforcement unit performed a sting operation, arresting 11 prostitutes for offering sex to undercover officers on San Pablo Avenue, between Ashby Avenue and Dwight Way.
So far this year, police have conducted four such stings on San Pablo that have resulted in the arrest of 44 prostitutes, according to Police Information Officer Mary Kusmiss.
San Pablo Avenue has long been plagued by prostitution because it offers sex workers heavy car traffic and provides easy access to isolated areas in west Berkeley that are conducive to illicit sex.
During the past few months, merchants and residents have complained that prostitution has gotten worse.
“Every day it’s a steady stream of women flagging down cars,” said Jack Fox, a local business owner, in an August interview.
Fox said he was happy to learn of last month’s sting, but added that police tactics have not yet succeeded in ridding the avenue of prostitutes.
“Obviously 11 [arrests] is an impact, but it just goes to show you how many there are,” said Fox, who last Monday, said he counted 16 prostitutes walking by his shop during business hours.
Fox said he wants more frequent stings, but police say they are taking a more balanced approach to rooting out prostitution.
“Stings are a more concerted effort to compliment what is happening on a day-to-day basis,” Kusmiss said. She said beat officers are regularly able to spot prostitutes and arrest them either for violating probation or a “stay away” order.
In September, San Pablo Avenue beat officers arrested four women on prostitute charges, Kusmiss said.
She added that a police team had recently made several arrests by patrolling popular spots for prostitutes to conduct their business.
“Prostitution is in the department’s consciousness. We’ll continue to work on it.” Kusmiss said.