By Brandi Makuski
City leaders on Monday gave final approval to a new prostitution ordinance that comes with a steep fine of up to $1,500, plus court costs.
Also known as “soliciting” or “pandering”, the ordinance would provide police more local control on something already illegal under state law, which—depending on the offense—ranges from misdemeanor to felony charges.
The Stevens Point City Council unanimously approved the measure on March 19.
Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner said the proposed ordinance doesn’t replace that law, but will give local law enforcement a tool when the offenses might not rise to a level requiring criminal prosecution. Citations would be handled in municipal court, as opposed to circuit court, helping alleviate an already-understaffed district attorney’s office.
Police have been considering the ordinance request for some time, Zenner said, but it was a recent undercover operation that gave them an indication of how much prostitution activity occurs locally.
“We ran a spoof ad online, had cooperation with a local hotel, and within a six hour period of time, over 100 inquiries,” Zenner said. Undercover officers began receiving replies within two minutes of posting the ad, he said, and came from as far away as Milwaukee.
The February operation involved 11 Stevens Point police officers—one-quarter of the department’s manpower—and included both Zenner and Assistant Chief Mike Rottier. The operation resulted in four arrests.
“I knew we had activity, I did not anticipate that extent,” he said. “Granted, not all who called showed up, but we certainly identified that this isn’t an uncommon thing in the Stevens Point area.”
While police often notify the public following most large-scale operations yielding arrests, Zenner said this time, such notification could have destroyed families.
“There were victims here who were never at the scene…there’s going to be the wife, and the three or four kids, who have to go face classmates, and that’s going to explode on social media. Nothing good would come from it,” he said, “But when you have over 100 individuals reply, that’s not a small problem.”
City Attorney Andrew Beveridge said the ordinance language addresses prostitution itself, along with patronization of prostitutes, soliciting prostitutes, pandering, and keeping a place of prostitution.
Beveridge said the forfeiture is intentionally high in order to “maintain a high level of deterrence and consequences.”
Zenner said prostitution is often accompanied by drugs, and can involve violence or human trafficking, but the ordinance would likely only be appropriate for cases involving two consenting adults without those mitigating factors.
Each instance would be judged on a case-by-case basis, he said, but generally speaking, any case involving repeat offenders, minors, drugs, violence or human-trafficking would likely be governed by state law, not the city’s ordinance.