West Palm Beach officials believe public embarrassment could curb prostitution, even though their last attempt to shame johns turned into a costly court battle.
At Monday's commission workshop, commissioners debated posting the names, and possibly photos and addresses, of men arrested for soliciting prostitutes. The names would be posted on the city's website or in a print publication.
"I like the statement we'd be making," Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell said. "It would be making the public more aware that we're paying attention to this problem."
City Attorney Claudia McKenna said the city is trying to find new ways to curb prostitution after West Palm Beach's "loitering with the intent to commit prostitution" ordinance recently was declared unconstitutional by two circuit court judges. "It is not a criminal activity that courts particularly like, because of the potential for vague application and enforcement," McKenna said.
In 1992 Mayor Nancy Graham received national attention when she enacted a similar program. The city placed two $1,000 ads in The Palm Beach Post, first listing the names, ages and cities of 81 men arrested in prostitution sweep. A month later, the city listed more johns, but with full addresses and dates of birth, to protect men with similar names.
A man whose name was printed but who was acquitted sued the city. The city agreed to a $10,000 settlement.
Mitchell said times have changed. With the advent of the Internet, the county's booking blotter is already searchable online, she argued.
However, that only includes the names and photos of men and women booked at the county jail. Chief Delsa Bush said many men arrested for solicitation don't actually get taken into jail, instead receiving notices to appear in court.
Bush said that in recent years, the West Palm Beach Police Department has decided against publishing the names of many men arrested for soliciting prostitutes. "We don't want wives and children hurt by this," said Bush, who added that nearly all of the men arrested for prostitution in West Palm Beach are caught in a sting operation.
Commissioner Bill Moss said the city needs evidence that publishing the names of johns would reduce prostitution.
"If our goal is to try and deter future crime, that's one thing," Moss said. "If it's only embarrassing the person and their family and children, then we need to think about it."
McKenna said many police department officials doubt whether publishing names deters crime.
"A large percentage of arrests are of non-English speakers who may or may not read English," McKenna said. "To that extent it may have some less effective impact, unless we publish it in multiple languages."
But Mitchell said prostitution and the crime that comes with it continue to plague neighborhoods.
"By publishing somebody's name, we understand the consequences to the families, but the people who are committing these crimes need to know the consequences of their behavior, too," Mitchell said. "While that's tough for families to deal with, it's tougher for the neighborhoods to deal with crime that's going on."
Mayor Jeri Muoio said residents' biggest complaints are quality-of-life issues in their neighborhoods.
Gail Levine, who runs a Prostitution Impact Prevention Education class in West Palm Beach, said she's against the city's proposal to publish names. Levine's program allows first-time offenders to attend her in-depth class about the horrors of prostitution and then have their records cleared.
Commissioner Ike Robinson, who represents some of the city's most downtrodden neighborhoods, said he was in favor of both publishing the names as well as developing a prostitution exclusion zone that McKenna suggested.
Prostitution exclusion zones designate a specific area as having a prostitution problem. People convicted of a soliciting a prostitute are then legally banned from stepping foot in that zone unless they have a legitimate reason to be there, such as work.
"One of the things we're trying to do is talking to other cities to determine at this point how they're working and whether or not they are an effective tool," McKenna said.