Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the Honolulu Police Department’s enforcement of prostitution laws. Read our related coverage:
Honolulu police arrested just one pimp in nine months and charged more local men than tourists with prostitution offenses, a Civil Beat investigation has found.
The findings are part of a continuing probe into how the Honolulu Police Department handles prostitution laws. For nine months, Civil Beat has tracked prostitution arrests through the daily police blotter, a public document that lists the names, addresses, etc., of every suspect arrested on Oahu.
Our analysis revealed:
That Honolulu arrested one pimp in nine months isn’t entirely uncommon, says Jack McDevitt, associate dean at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The numbers tend to reflect a community’s view of the problem.
“I would say that what we found, looking around the country at different agencies, is that what you’re seeing in Honolulu is not unusual,” he said. “Arrests for promoting prostitution tend to be a low priority arrest in many agencies.”
“If it’s a priority for the community to reduce prostitution, then I think that one of the things the community would want to do is communicate that to the police department and ask them to do a multi-faceted strategy to not only go after street-level prostitution and also go after those who benefit from it,” McDevitt said.
The lone pimp arrest could be an indicator that human trafficking isn’t a priority for the department.
“I think those agencies that concentrate on pimps, they tend to find more human trafficking,” he said. “A prostitution arrest is very easy. You can do that quickly. You can go out on the street or go on Craigslist and get the individuals involved. But to get the pimp, it is harder to make that case.”
How police in Honolulu enforce prostitution laws is noteworthy given that Hawaii has among the nation’s weakest john laws and is one of only four states without a human trafficking law. And while local law enforcement acknowledges that many sex workers are trafficking victims, they disagree with victims advocates about whether a specific anti-human trafficking statute is necessary or even would be helpful.
House Bill 240, backed by Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, contains a trio of proposals that would toughen penalties for pimps and johns.
The bill also tries to address a major weakness in law enforcement’s ability to prosecute pimps by making prostitutes eligible for a state witness protection program. The measure nearly died in committee earlier this month but was revived and is likely headed to conference committee.
During the nine months Civil Beat examined arrests related to Hawaii’s main prostitution statute, HRS 712-1200, Mukadin D. Gordon, 27, was the sole person arrested for promoting prostitution. He was arrested on Aug. 22 and is being held on $1 million bail while awaiting trial for promoting prostitution, kidnapping and sex assault. Gordon’s trial is scheduled for June 6.
In October, Civil Beat asked police why they had arrested only one pimp in a three-month period. Maj. Susan Dowsett, head of HPD’s Narcotics/Vice Division wrote:
“We are aware of the importance of enforcing laws regarding promoting prostitution. In fact, the penalty for promoting prostitution is more severe than the penalty for prostitution itself. However, promoting prostitution laws are more difficult to enforce. They generally require the cooperation and testimony of prostitutes, most of whom are afraid or otherwise unwilling to do so. The department works with other law enforcement agencies on cases involving human trafficking and promoting prostitution. We have ongoing investigations, but unfortunately we cannot go into detail.”
Asked why HPD has not made any more pimp arrests HPD Spokeswoman Michelle Yu said Wednesday in an email:
Promoting prostitution laws are difficult to enforce because they generally require the cooperation and testimony of prostitutes, most of whom are afraid and/or unwilling to do so. Pimps intimidate and brainwash their prostitutes/victims; as a result, it is rare that a prostitute is willing to testify against the pimp.
The department did not take a position on HB 240 and has not answered queries from Civil Beat about whether it supports efforts to include prostitutes in the witness protection program.
During the first three-month period Civil Beat examined, street solicitations made up one-third of arrests. In February and March, street solicitation arrests made up just 17 percent of prostitution arrests.
To catch those who solicit prostitutes, police often put on reverse sting operations in which undercover female or male officers pose as prostitutes.
One undercover operation led to the recent arrest of President Barack Obama’s golfing buddy and Punahou classmate, Robert Titcomb. Titcomb was arrested on April 4.
In February and March, police arrested 16 women and 19 men on prostitution charges.1
A review of the data gathered by Civil Beat shows Honolulu Police concentrated their reverse stings in two Downtown locations where few tourists congregate. Their operations netted 19 local men — 12 gave police local home addresses while seven listed hotels or other non-Hawaii addresses.
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There were also a handful of repeat arrests during the most recent period Civil Beat examined. Officers arrested Brenda J. Burroughs, 49, on July 19 and Sept. 27 in the same neighborhood at nearly identical times. She pleaded no contest after the first time and was given a deferred acceptance of a not guilty plea. After her second arrest, she was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Yolanda Price, a 28-year-old man, was arrested three times for prostitution: Sept. 10, Jan. 7, March 24. He was picked up twice in the same downtown area near Nuuanu Avenue and North Kukui Street. The third offense was for street solicitation.
The oldest woman arrested in February and March was Yeo Jeong Suk, 60, who was arrested at a massage parlor for both prostitution and failing to display a massage license. She listed as her home address the same place that she was arrested.
The second oldest woman arrested was 51-year-old Meiling Ren, charged with massaging without a license. The address she listed matches with an apartment complex in Las Vegas, Nev.
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