Police crack down on prostitution off Biscayne - with residents' help

An undercover City of Miami Police Officer poses as a prostitute on 8th Street in 2007. (File Photo)
An undercover City of Miami Police Officer poses as a prostitute on 8th Street in 2007. (File Photo)

City of Miami Police have begun a crack down on prostitution on Biscayne Boulevard that takes a new approach to stemming the problem that has long plagued sections of the thoroughfare north of 36th street. For this effort, the police are asking for residents’ help.

Codenamed “Operation Streetwalker,” the project is an initiative of Commander Manuel Morales and the community prosecution division of the State Attorney’s Office. It combines stepped up enforcement (in the form of more undercover cops targeting prostitution) with community involvement.

Morales is asking residents of the neighborhoods along the corridor to attend the bond hearings and trials of anyone his officers arrest for prostitution related charges. The residents job is simple: help convince judges to hand down stiff punishments.

“What this project does is that it takes these ‘victimless’ crimes and lets the judge know  that it’s the community that’s the victim,” Morales said in an interview at a city office. “It gives people the chance to say hey, we’re the community, we’re the victim, even though I’m not personally affected by this, I am here, representing my community.”

Morales has rounded up about 40 volunteers so far, and has made 12 arrests since the program started in the last week of February. Volunteers get 24 hours or less notice before the bond hearings, and get a briefing on the case before they have to testify. Anyone interested in participating can contact Morales via email at Manuel.Morales@miami-police.org

Belle Meade resident and community activist Frank Rollason was one of the first to sign up. He has helped Morales distribute his message through neighborhood Google Groups and thinks more people should consider contributing.

"It’s a way for business owners and residents to participate in cleaning up the Boulevard,” he said.

Rollason, who is also a columnist for The Biscayne Times, hasn’t had the chance to testify at a hearing for this project, but he says that based on his experience with other cases, residents should be patient as it can be a long, slow process.

For instance, they might show up for court, only for the hearing to be postponed

“It’s not exactly a wonderful experience,” he said.

Morales doesn't expect to see progress overnight. Prostitution has plagued sections of Biscayne since he first joined the force in 1994. Since then enforcement has come and gone in waves -- but he’s hoping that with a consistent stepped up police presence, and the support of the residents, Operation Streetwalker can turn the tide.

“What we want to do is send out the message to the prostitutes, to the pimps, that’s we’re not going to tolerate this,” he said. “In essence, what we’re doing is making the area a lot less inviting.”