Did Dallas Curb Sex Trafficking and Prostitution With ‘No Cruising’ Ordinance?

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Debbie Kim, a resident and business owner in District 6, said she recognizes the prostitution and sex trafficking issues on portions of Shady Trail, Harry Hines Boulevard, Walnut Hill Lane and Southwell Road. But when Dallas expanded a no-cruising ordinance to the area last year, she said, it didn’t do much to curb this activity.

‘[Expanding the ordinance] did nothing,” Kim told the Observer. “But changing it to a felony charge did. The streets are empty now.”

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1540, Texas became the first state to make buying sex a felony. Aimed to combat sex trafficking, the law went into effect this month. “I completely disagree with it being a felony, but the girls are gone, so it worked,” Kim said.

Last year, the City Council voted to extend a “no cruising” ordinance to portions of Shady Trail, Harry Hines Boulevard, Walnut Hill Lane and Southwell Road in an effort to clamp down on sex work and sex trafficking. Unlawful cruising is defined as a driver passing through “the same traffic control point within a no cruising zone three times within any two-hour period.” A person can be ticketed up to $500 for cruising in one of these zones.

The ordinance states that traffic congestion and cruising in these areas is linked to prostitution-related activities and trafficking. The thinking is if law enforcement can reduce the traffic in these areas, they can reduce this illegal activity. The Dallas Police Department confirmed that the ordinance was still being enforced in these areas.

On whether the ordinance is getting the job done, Dallas Police Maj. Samuel Sarmiento would only say by email that “it has been effective in decreasing traffic congestion, traffic violations and other illegal activities. We will continue to monitor and enforce the ‘no cruising’ ordinance in an effort to control all illegal activities including prostitution.”

There was some hesitation from City Council members and Dallas residents when the expansion was first proposed.

A vote on the expansion was delayed after it received opposition from Dallas residents and several council members, who compared the ordinance to “stop-and-frisk,” a discredited practice used in other cities that allowed police officers to stop and randomly search people in certain geographical areas. They said the cruising ban could open the floodgates of widespread racial profiling.

“My main point is that the vaunted cruising ordinance greatly reduces the justification officers need to provide when stopping someone driving down the street.” – Tim Dickey, Dallas resident

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Yet some of the opposing council members changed their minds about the ordinance after a ride along with DPD’s vice unit, during which they saw how the ordinance was being enforced in other parts of the city.

On one of these ride alongs, Omar Narvaez, the council member who moved for the delayed vote, said, “I was watching minors being forced into sex work.” Over the police radios, he said, he heard women working the streets weren’t being allowed a drink of water because they hadn’t made $1,000 yet. “It’s unconscionable,” he said.

Council member Adam Bazaldua, who had been opposed to the ordinance, also rode along with DPD last month. He said the police demonstrated care for the victims of these crimes, the girls and women, and that he witnessed their efforts to divert them from dangerous activity.

Narvaez moved to approve the ordinance with the stipulation that DPD presents data each year to prove its success.

Tim Dickey, a Dallas resident, took video one Thursday night in July that seemed to show active sex workers outside a hotel on Walnut Hill Lane. He said the ordinance doesn’t seem to be working and that it makes people more susceptible to unlawful stops by police.

“My main point is that the vaunted cruising ordinance greatly reduces the justification officers need to provide when stopping someone driving down the street,” Dickey said. If a cop pulls someone over and says they don’t have a front license plate or that one of their lights is out, the driver can challenge that on the spot with verifiable proof (the presence of a front license plate or working lights).

“But what can one say to an officer who pulls one over and begins questioning them, using the reason, ‘You were spotted passing the same spot three times in a two hour period?'” Dickey asked. “The deal is, I guess, that we agree to give up some rights to challenge an officer’s reason for stopping us in order to help the police crackdown on street-walking prostitution.”

If it works, good, he said. “So how’s that working out?” Dickey asked. “Well, that Thursday night, I saw more women manifesting prostitution in the area covered by the new cruising ordinance than I have seen in 35 years of watching this activity in Northwest Dallas.” (According to Texas local government code, “manifesting prostitution” is when someone loiters to induce, entice, solicit or procure another person into an act of prostitution.)

Dickey said he and a small group of six to eight neighborhood associations have been in contact with the police chief to address the ongoing issues with prostitution and sex-trafficking.