Community leaders are banding together in an effort to reduce prostitution on Milwaukee’s south side. Last week, the Benedict Center announced a partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department. Patrol officers will start referring prostitutes to a place they could go for shelter and drug treatment. A couple of south side aldermen rolled out another approach on Wednesday.
It’s called “Operation Dear John.” Ald. Bob Donovan introduced the program outside a convenience store on 23rd and Greenfield. He says the initiative is designed to address what he calls the “out of control” problem with prostitution in the area, and will crack down on the customers in particular.
What’s unique is, no city dollars are involved. Instead, Donovan says the community has raised money to hire a private security firm to come into the neighborhood and gather information on those customers, or “johns.”
“We want to know what homes are being used by these prostitutes and drug dealers, we want to know what vehicles are coming into this neighborhood on a daily basis committing crime after crime after crime,” Donovan says.
Donovan says once investigators have identified the customers, the johns will be receiving a letter in the mail, warning them that soliciting a prostitute is a crime for which they could be prosecuted.
“The message is very simple: if you’re coming into this neighborhood to engage in criminal activity, don’t. We don’t want you, get the hell out of here, because the quality of life of these neighbors are what we’re concerned about and their quality of life has totally and completely been diminished by the level of criminal activity that is going on around here,” Donovan says.
Donovan says investigators started infiltrating the neighborhood this week. He says the program is a pilot that will run for at least two months in a 20-block area of the south side, in the hope that if successful, it will be expanded.
Community members pooled $5,000 to hire the private company. One person who chipped in, is Betty Grinker. She says she’s been living in the neighborhood for more than 40 years and has seen an uptick in disturbing activity.
“They’re doing stuff in front of families. They don’t care if there are kids walking around. I have a video in my purse of one of them servicing one of the johns a few houses up from here, 4:30 in the afternoon with kids playing. That’s craziness,” Grinker says.
Another concerned neighbor is Nixon Bivar, a pastor at a nearby church. He’s also seen more prostitution, including women propositioning him.
“Many times they come to my car and approach me and I tell them I work here in the church and I tell them we are here to help you, if you need help we can help you somehow but they don’t say anything, they say sorry and walk away,” Bivar says.
Bivar says he hopes the program that specifically targets the customers is successful. However, he says he fears the activity will simply move on to other south side neighborhoods, now that the spotlight is on this one.