law enforcement

Santa Ana's Vice Squad Cracks Down on Prostitution

For the first time in years, Santa Ana's vice unit is back on patrol targeting one of the community's most pervasive problems -- prostitution.

Budget cuts in 2014 forced the specialized unit to be eliminated, sending vice  officers back to regular patrol. The sex industry spiraled out of control.

"The community saw a huge increase,"  said Cmdr. Ken Gominsky, of the Santa Ana Police Department.

Added an undercover detective: "These Johns will pick up these girls. They'll park, do their business in the car. They'll toss the condoms out the door."

Within minutes the first "John" solicited an undercover officer during a recent sting in a prostitution hot spot on Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana.

The 32-year-old man had been arrested before on charges of lewd acts with a minor. He was wearing two ankle monitors and told police he was currently on parole and probation.

"Now he's out here on Harbor trying to solicit another sex crime," Gominsky said. "Right now we have a sex purchaser speaking to a female."

During the sting a suspected prostitute notices one of the undercover vehicles circling, charges the police SUV, pounds on the window and tries to open the door.

The women are protective of their profession, despite the constant danger, police say.

"I've spoken to females who have told me they've been raped," an undercover officer says, who spoke on condition he not be named. "I've seen prostitutes that have been beaten to death."

Inside a cramped motel room, detectives book suspect after suspect.

One of them tells police he's never been arrested. But he is no stranger to law enforcement.

"He told us he was basically a career department of corrections officer for out of state," the undercover officer says. "He served 18 years honorably."

On this night, the vice unit makes 17 arrests in six hours.

"If you don't have Johns, you're not going to have human trafficking," said Laila Nikaien, an Orange County deputy district attorney. "You're not going to have prostitution."

Most of the women tell police, they are not working for a "Pimp."

Officers say they are, in some ways, on a mission of mercy, hoping the young women working the streets find a way out.

The 17 men and women are booked on charges related to prostitution, including loitering to commit prostitution or attempting to engage in sex acts, which are misdemeanors.

In most cases, they are booked but then released with a citation and a promise to appear in court.

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