Prostitution Along Western

Neighborhood websites have been lighting up with complaints, pictures and reactions to the prostitution that plagues Western Blvd.  TNN decided to sit down with a seasoned veteran of the prostitution problem on Western, Captain Palazzolo from Olympic Division.

palazollo3web2TNN:In what area of Western Blvd. is prostitution most active?


Capt. Palazzolo: All of Western is pretty much affected from Hollywood to south L.A.  The time of day or night varies. This has been a problem that's persisted over a long period of time.

TNN:How long?

Capt. Palazzolo:  I was a young police officer about 20 years ago where I worked vice in the Southwest area, and we worked the prostitution along Western at that time. It was still a problem when I was a captain at Southwest area four years ago.  I had some very good community contacts who grew up in that area and I was told that the problem has persisted there for over 50 years.  Now, although the problem has persisted, the type of person involved in this type of activity has changed quite a bit.

TNN:In what way?

Capt. Palazzolo:  Around 1995 – 96  I was a vice officer in Southwest area vice, which is just off the Santa Monica freeway. This was shortly towards the waning days of the crack epidemic.  I worked as an undercover operator and we covered as far north as Santa Monica. The prostitutes that we used to see then were not as organized as they are now. They were really women trying to make a living to feed themselves and their crack cocaine addiction.  Some of them were transient, some of them lived on the street, some of them were just trying to get by. Very rarely did we have the typical prostitute that you see on TV wearing the mini-skirt and the sexy clothing.  It was not like that at all in those days. A lot of complaints came in from the neighbors, as they do today, because nobody wants to see that. Whether they were feeding their addiction, trying to survive, or doing it for a pimp, nobody likes to see this in their neighborhood.

When I came back nearly 15 years later as a captain at the Southwest area, I saw that the type of woman working the streets was a lot different. The women were now dressed like you would imagine a prostitute would be dressed. They would wear short mini-skirts or very scantily clothed.  They had on an outfit that matched the stereotype of what a prostitute should look like. These girls were also very young and attractive.

NN:How young?

Capt. Palazzolo:Late teens, although sometimes there would be somebody that was under 18. They were also very well organized. They would come out late at night. Not 9, 10, 11 o'clock at night but 3, 4, 5  o’clock in the morning when there was less police presence.

TNN:Less neighbors watching.

Capt. Palazzolo: Correct. Today the problem is very much like it was 5 years ago when I was a captain at Southwest area. These girls are coming in, they are very attractive women in their late teens with the majority of them in their early 20s, so we work Western quite a bit.  But also at that time the internet was pretty big.  We now have cyber sites for prostitution where people go and share information about where you can find prostitutes and Western is an area that is well known, like Sunset in Hollywood. 

On a weekly basis we have a task force, both for Johns, meaning the men that pick up the prostitutes, and for the prostitutes themselves. We put out undercover female officers that look like prostitutes and wait for solicitation from customers and we arrest them for soliciting prostitution. So we attack it from both ends. One week we'll do Johns, one week we'll do prostitutes. We'll mix it up.

We also collaborated with Councilman Wesson, Sylvia Lacy and the staff at CD10, who have helped us out quite a bit in ensuring that we focus a lot of our prostitution attention on Western because they too hear the complaints from neighbors. They have been very helpful in getting signs installed on Western between certain times of the night, so people can't make right turns or left turns into the neighborhoods. We've looked at areas where it's really dark and where the prostitutes and the Johns go to do their deed and we've worked in collaboration with CD 10 and the DWP to provide lighting there. We've identified areas where maybe trees need to be trimmed and we do that.

But there's a counterbalance, because although we’ve made these recommendations to complaining neighbors, those same neighbors might not want those bright lights or those trees or shrubbery cut. 

Businesses have been actually very good about it because of the darkness in their parking lots at night. We can arrange to provide light with DWP for people who live on the street or even private property, like the businesses, for zero or low cost.

TNN:So you use no turn signs, you use lighting, you use cutting the trees back so there's nowhere to hide.

Capt. Palazzolo:  And enforcement of course. And we do that quite frequently.

TNN:And the enforcement includes acting as Johns or acting as prostitutes. 

Capt. Palazzolo:  Both. And we've also had an increase in uniform presence with police officers on motorcycles and in cars that are dedicated just to this part of Western.

TNN:What part of Western?

Capt. Palazzolo:  Basically from the 10 freeway to as far north as Olympic. (Olympic division's southern border is at the 10 freeway) Then sometimes we change that to even further up depending on the activity that's moving.

TNN:Tell me how the prostitutes today are different from back in the day. 

Capt. Palazzolo:  So the girls today, as I was mentioning, look like the typical idea of a prostitute as far as their looks and the way they carry themselves. We call them circuit girls. They're in circuit. Almost always they're not from the area. They travel around, they've got pimps. Sometimes the pimps are associated with street gangs who no longer deal in narcotics and things of that sort, but now they’re dealing in prostitution. Today they may work here on Western but tomorrow the same group of girls are basically trekked to another part, maybe Sepulveda, then the next day, they'll be down in Oceanside. Then the day after that maybe down in San Diego. Then the day after that or two days they may be up in Sacramento, Stockton. So they travel a circuit.

TNN:   Not  just  in LA, but in Southern California.

Capt. Palazzolo: Southern and Northern California. A lot of them will avoid being known to officers, to avoid arrest. They don't want to get too comfortable with officers stopping them and talking to them so it's not like we see the same girls over and over and over. That's an easy arrest for us. Loitering for purpose of prostitution. Now it’s a very well-managed business. Gangs don’t traffic in drugs but humans - it's called human trafficking. 

We do have a human trafficking task force in the LAPD that we work very closely with them. Once in a while when there is a prostituted girl that wants to come out of this business, we'll help that person out. We'll try to get them out and back to wherever that person is from. Then we work the big cases with the human traffickers and these pimps that are moving these girls up and down.

TNN:Where are these girls coming from?

Capt. Palazzolo:  They are coming from all over. I'll name you some of the most common towns they are recruited from: Las Vegas, Nevada,. Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland. Inglewood, Long Beach, Oceanside.

TNN:How are they recruited? They're just runaways?

Capt. Palazzolo:  Some of them are runaways. Most of them just meet the wrong people. I don't know how frequent this is, but pimps used to hang out the bus depot but I think most of the girls are actually recruited from their hometowns. Hang out with the wrong people make the wrong contacts, are promised big money, quick big money and get caught up in the situation. Once in a while we'll see an underage person.

Sometimes the girls are not truthful with their pimps about how old they are. 

TNN:What happens to these women, because they don't stay young forever?

Capt. Palazzolo: When a girl wants to leave, we put them in contact with the right resources. Usually it's our human trafficking unit that will get that information, try to debrief her so we can learn a little bit more about how these organizations operate. There are service providers like Project Runaway that will help. Depending what the situation is with the pimp, it's either really easy to leave or really hard. Generally, if they're from out of town and they can get a ride back, a one-way ticket to wherever they're from, usually the pimp will go on to something else, unless they're owed a lot of money or something like that.

It's very difficult to leave willingly though. If you're getting older and you're no longer good to the trade, they don't care. But if you still have work in you and you can still go and make money for the pimp, they're not going to make it easy for you to leave. You just have to come to the police and say, I need help leaving and then we will put a bunch of things into place to make that happen. Most of the time, they don't do that. They don't come to us and say "I want to leave this". Sometimes they're just going to have to do something on their own. Just disappear.

But the pimps don't make it very easy because one of the things the pimps do is they make sure that these girls become dependent on them. Some of them have such low self-esteem that they believe they can't do anything on the outside world without their help, without them holding their hand. That's basically how they nurture these girls. They look for the attractive girls that have low self-esteem.  Some of them will get addicted to drugs as well. The pimp will make sure that they get the fix so that they keep coming back. They have a target audience.

TNN:When you're dealing with the drug business, you don't just go after the little petty people on the streets selling nickel and dime bags, well they're not nickel and dime bags anymore I would assume, but you try to get to the dealers.

Capt. Palazzolo:  We have a unit downtown that does exactly that. We work with them and give them information. Once in a while, and this happens rarely, we do arrest a pimp. But often it's somebody working for a pimp. We may find them hanging around Western because they also keep an eye on the girls and drive them around to their locations and provide them security so nobody messes with them. And they collect the money and they do all the things that pimps do.

TNN:But they're the middle people.

Capt. Palazzolo:  Yeah, sometimes the middle person.  When we make one of those arrests we notify the unit downtown. They debrief this person. Try to get intelligence. Where they're from, who they may work for. These are complicated cases because you can't just make an arrest and it's done. I would describe it as organized crime. An organized ring is organized crime. An organized ring of prostitutes that moves people around, here today there tomorrow, that's organized crime. 

That's what we're seeing more. So we're not seeing the local girls for the most part. Once in a while we will, but we're not seeing the local girls that are out there. 

TNN:What happened to them?

Capt. Palazzolo:  I think in the last 10 years at least, the drug epidemic is subsiding, although not by any means gone all together. So I think we have less women out there trying to survive and do whatever they can to survive. Once in a while you'll see them but these organized rings don't want any competition and the independent girls are chased off by these individuals. These women are very easy to resolve with enforcement because they don't have that support behind the scenes that's going to bring them back or bail them out of jail. Those are easy to affect with enforcement. 

So that's what we're seeing with prostitution. We work in collaboration with local leaders. We work in collaboration with our units downtown who are after the human traffickers. We do the things that we can to respond to the concerns of the community. 

TNN:How do you do that? Because it's kind of like the firecracker thing. There's so much going on and not enough police.

Capt. Palazzolo:  Actually CD 10 is taking a very proactive approach on that. Once a month they have a meeting that brings a coalition together of neighborhood council people and other neighbors and service providers and us the police department and DOT for signage and things of that sort. We come up with ideas. What is the status? Sometimes somebody will come up with something new, we'll try it. If it works fine, if it doesn't, we tried but a lot of the ideas are the same things we've been doing for years. 

Here’s a funny story:  When I first got here I wanted to see for myself, so I went out with my vice unit to watch them do a John operation. They were putting two female officers out to pretend to be prostitutes over at Olympic and 15th. I was out there and we were watching the activity, we were watching the girls stand on the corner and the guys coming up. My vice sergeant, she gets a call from a neighbor because we gave her number to call directly. We really want to be responsive to neighbors. The neighbor’s very upset, she says, "you know what, there's two girls standing out there right now. The police are driving by and not stopping them or talking to them. There's motorcycle officers and cops and nobody talking to them." The officers are like, "yeah does the girl look like this, like that, does she have this on"..."yes how do you know?" "Those women are our officers, we're doing an operation right now." The neighbors are right on it. They are right on it. They know exactly what's going on.

TNN:Let me just ask you a quick question about that. When you have those officers out on a sting, out as prostitutes, don't the organized criminals get alerted?

Capt. Palazzolo: Sometimes. And we've had our girls be challenged. That's when we make those arrests with the pimps minders who will come up and say “hey move out of here” to the officers. Sometimes they don't know, but mostly they're smart enough and they know it's the cops. Usually that's the case and when they see our girls you don't see any of their girls anywhere around. They can tell. They stay clear of that.

Sometimes you do all that you can but they keep coming back, especially knowing that Western is being advertised on the internet as the place to be. Unless you close down the street period, which is not reasonable or you keep cops out there every single minute which is impossible, so we do the best we can. We definitely keep a high presence on Western. Probably higher than anywhere else in this division.

TNN:Well, it is the oldest profession in the world.

Capt. Palazzolo: It's the oldest profession in the world and as long as there are customers, there's going to be people doing it, unfortunately. 

TNN: Other than cutting down shrubs and trees and installing bright lights, what else can neighbors do?

Capt. Palazzolo:  Our commitment is really to work with the neighbors because I totally understand the frustrations. I'm also looking for creative ways. Right before I left Southwest, there was a gentleman who lived in one of those neighborhoods that I told you about. He was actually a software developer. I left there before I was able to follow up with him, but he was writing an app on how to report when prostitution happened along Western. I don't know if he ever finished it, I never followed up.

TNN:  If there's a neighbor out there who knows how to do that or come up with these creative solutions, can they give you a call?

Capt. Palazzolo:  Yes. That's the point. If people have creative solutions...we've been at this for 50 years in this police department. We've tried just about everything. Some things work, some things don't, but all of them appear to be temporary because once these pimps, I don't blame the  prostitutes, these girls are just working for somebody...once they figure out how to go around it they do. Some things have worked, some things have not, most everything has been a temporary fix. As I said, as long as there's a market for this type of behavior, there's going to be people there that are going to be selling it.

[EDITORS NOTE] 

Sweden's novel solution to prostitution reduces 80% of it.

http://justicewomen.com/cj_sweden.html#.Va_5janVKBY.facebook 

Where you can read: "In just five years Sweden has dramatically reduced the number of its women in prostitution. In the capital city of Stockholm the number of women in street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of johns has been reduced by 80%. There are other major Swedish cities where street prostitution has all but disappeared. Gone too, for the most part, are the renowned Swedish brothels and massage parlors which proliferated during the last three decades of the twentieth century when prostitution in Sweden was legal."

"In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed legislation that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the selling of sex. The novel rationale behind this legislation is clearly stated in the government's literature on the law:

In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem... gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them."

Do you have ideas? You can contact Captain Palazzolo at   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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