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Prostitution Free Zone

Section 104 of the Omnibus Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2006 (DC Act 16-445) authorizes the Chief of Police to declare “Prostitution Free Zones” in the District of Columbia, in areas where the health or safety of residents is endangered by with prostitution or prostitution-related offenses. The law provides that, while a Prostitution Free Zone is in effect, it is unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate in a public space or property in that area for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses.
A Prostitution Free Zone may be established by the Chief of Police, provided it meets certain criteria, including a disproportionately high number of arrests or calls for police service related prostitution or prostitution-related offenses in the proposed zone within the preceding six-month period. Each Prostitution Free Zone will last no more than 240 hours (10 days), and the area will be clearly identified.

While the area is designated as a Prostitution Free Zone, any group of two or more persons congregating on public space for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses first will be warned by a police officer that they are in a Prostitution Free Zone and will be directed to disperse. Failure to obey the officer’s instruction could result in arrest, without a second warning. Offenders convicted under the law are subject to a fine of up to $300, imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both.

Current and Upcoming Prostitution Free Zones

PFZ 11-6D-10, October 27-31, 2011

Criteria for Determining a Prostitution Free Zone

In determining whether to designate a Prostitution Free Zone, the Chief of Police shall find the following:

  • The occurrence of disproportionately high arrests for prostitution or prostitution-related offenses, and calls for police service because of prostitution or prostitution-related offenses in the proposed Prostitution Free Zone within the preceding six-month period
  • Objective evidence or verifiable information that shows that a disproportionately high incidence of prostitution or prostitution-related offenses is occurring on public space or public property within the proposed Prostitution Free Zone
  • Any other verifiable information from which the Chief of Police may ascertain whether the public health or safety is endangered by prostitution or prostitution-related offenses in the Prostitution Free Zone. (Omnibus Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2006, § 104(b)(2))

 

Designating a Prostitution Free Zone

Once a Prostitution Free Zone has been declared by the Chief of Police, the MPDC will mark each block within the area by using barriers, tape or police officers. The posted information will contain the following details:

  • The boundaries of the Prostitution Free Zone
  • A statement of the effective dates of the Prostitution Free Zone designation (not to last more than 10 days)
  • A statement that it is unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses within the boundaries of the Prostitution Free Zone. Additionally, the postings will state that it is illegal if a group fails to disperse after being instructed to do so by a member of the MPDC who reasonably believes members of the group are congregating for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses

Violations of the Prostitution Free Zone Law

Essentially, any group of two or more persons congregating in a Prostitution Free Zone for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses is violating the Prostitution Free Zone law. Among the circumstances which officers may consider in determining whether such a purpose is manifested would include the following:

  • The conduct of a person being observed, including that such person is behaving in a manner raising a reasonable belief that the person is engaging or is about to engage in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses, such as
    • Repeatedly beckoning to, stopping, attempting to stop, or attempting to engage passers-by in conversation for the purpose of prostitution
    • Stopping or attempting to stop motor vehicles for the purpose of prostitution
    • Repeatedly interfering with the free passage of other persons for the purpose of prostitution
  • Information from a reliable source indicating that a person being observed routinely engages in or is currently engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses within the Prostitution Free Zone
  • Physical identification by an officer of the person as a member of a gang or association which engages in prostitution or prostitution-related offense
  • Knowledge by an officer that the person is a known participant in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses
  • Knowledge by an officer that any vehicle involved in the observed circumstances is registered to a known participant in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses, or a person for whom there is an outstanding arrest warrant for a crime involving prostitution or prostitution-related offenses. (Omnibus Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2006, § 104(d)(2))

The presence of a listed circumstance may or may not be sufficient by itself to give rise to a reasonable belief that a person has congregated for the purpose of participating in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses.  MPDC policy requires that the totality of the circumstances create a degree of articulable suspicion that would be sufficient to justify a “Terry” stop of two or more members of the group to investigate prostitution or prostitution-related offenses. Officers are prohibited from relying on stereotypes or “profiles,” but shall look for conduct that might have a relationship to prostitution or prostitution-related offenses and which can be clearly articulated.

Enforcing the Prostitution Free Zone Law

If two or more persons are in violation of the Prostitution Free Zone law, they first will be informed by an officer that they are in a Prostitution Free Zone, and that they should disperse and depart within a reasonable time frame before any arrests are made.
It is illegal for members of a group to continue to congregate on public space in the Prostitution Free Zone after being instructed to disperse. Failure to obey the officer’s instruction will result in arrest without a second warning. This holds true if they regroup and continue to congregate in any public space within the boundaries of the Prostitution Free Zone. Any person who violates the law shall, upon conviction, be subject to a fine of up to $300, imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both.

Acceptable Group Activities

All acceptable group activities are, and continue to be, lawful within the Prostitution Free Zone. Examples of some activities in which people may participate as a group that do not violate the Prostitution Free Zone law include the following:

  • Distributing campaign literature
  • Collecting names on petitions
  • Soliciting community support
  • Discussing political or religious topics
  • Meetings for other lawful civil or personal associations