New Prostitution Ordinance Holds Hotels Responsible

A new city ordinance is aimed a prosecuting hotel owners and managers who allow prostitution in their facilities.

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Houston City Council passed the ordinance that holds desk clerks and owners responsible for prostitution on the premises. Under the ordinance, any clerk or employee of the establishment who is proven to know about the activity could be arrested and charged under a misdemeanor violation. Councilwoman Ada Edwards says prostitution has become a severe problem in her district and she believes this action will attack another facet of the issue.

"At this point in time in certain communities, neighbors are being held hostage. And the prostitutes in the areas in my city, in my district that I represent are becoming younger and younger. And you've got young girls and young boys that are being put out on the street and are using these places as, as points of business."

The burden of proof to prosecute the hotel and motel employees would be on the law enforcement agents. Houston Police Department Capt. Steve Jett heads up the vice squad. He says right now there's nothing an officer can do about clerks who clearly know prostitution is happening and don't do anything about it. But with this ordinance, there is recourse against the facility and the possibility of shutting down some places where prostitution is prevalent.

"There's many times that clerks don't know or don't, they have no idea, especially in the larger hotels, why they're renting a room. But in these smaller motels, when you rent the room for one hour and you rent it continuously several times a day to the same girl, she keeps coming back over and over again, that clerk knows what he's doing."

Jett says they already have covert operations underway in some of these motels and undercover officers will have conversations with the clerks to determine if they know about the activity. Houston Mayor Bill White says this action is about stopping crime at every level.

"Anything that ultimately gets to the ownership of the operation and makes the ownership make a choice about whether they want to do a legitimate operation or not. And there are choices that the owners make, whether they, what their policies are concerning credit card utilization, concerning the record keeping etc...etc...etc...The ownership can influence how these properties are used and that's where we want, we want to get to that ownership."

Council unanimously passed the ordinance. There have been some questions about whether it would hold up in a court of law if challenged.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...