Police arrested 70 men last week during a three-day “john sweep” in East York.
The sweep took place along Danforth Avenue, between Broadview and Victoria Park Avenue. The men were charged with allegedly communicating for the purpose of obtaining the services of a prostitute.
Detective Christopher Higgins from 54 Division says the area is experiencing a degradation in morals, notably between Woodbine and Victoria Park Avenues, where drug dealers are increasingly present.
He says the prostitutes in this area don’t fit the usual bill.
“They are not standing on a street corner wearing the high boots, leather skirts and stuff. They pop out of a crack house and try to find someone who will give them money for sexual acts so they can go back and get more drugs,” he says.
Det. Higgins says this is a relatively small crime, but combined with other crimes, it contributes to a lack of safety in the neighbourhood.
He urged residents to report anything and everything that is illegal. Many residents fail to report a break-in to a shed or a garage because they see it as petty, but this can hinder police work.
“It doesn’t do us any good when we arrest one guy for breaking into a shed and we charge him with one count of break and enter or theft. Meanwhile, he’s done like 30 in the area in six months but since the residents don’t report it, we can’t tie them to all of their crimes,” Det. Higgins said.
This is the third “john sweep” of its kind. The first one was conducted last year in October, when 22 men were arrested. The second was in May 2009, when 56 men were arrested. Det. Higgins says the numbers are not necessarily rising, police are just getting better at catching johns.
Det. Higgins wants to make sure the community knows police are not targeting prostitutes. They want the men who are soliciting women for sex out of the area, and this is one of the ways they are tackling the issue.
He says first-time offenders get sent to “john school” and are discharged after they complete their community service. It’s the ones who keep re-offending that are the biggest problem.
“These men need to be educated. It’s good for them to see what effect this has on an ex-hooker that was addicted to drugs and was selling her body for $10, and find out the diseases they could be bringing home to their families, let alone that they have to live with,” he said.
He noted that eight of the men charged were taxi drivers.
“That these cab drivers are willing to have prostitutes come in their car and commit sexual acts in their car while they are working is shocking,” he said.
“The citizens of Toronto shouldn’t have to carry a luma light with them to see what kind of bodily fluids have been left behind in cars that they are climbing into.”
Earlier this year, Police brought their concerns to City Hall, hoping for restrictions on reoffending taxi drivers, but was turned down.
Det. Higgins says the police presence is important for residents to feel safe, but emphasizes it is crucial that residents to do their part and communicate with police.
“We’re working hard to keep the neighbourhood safe and I don’t want people to come to their nice little home in East York, locking the doors and windows and not letting their kids play outside because they’re afraid of crimes being committed.”