Op-Ed: California’s loitering law is discriminatory and unsafe


Over the years, California has fought to replace laws that allowed discrimination with ones that prioritize justice. We’ve done good work so far, including scrapping certain law enforcement enhancements that extend jail time for questionable factors like gang-related allegations, and taking other steps to reduce racial discrimination in the court process, including jury selection. But many unjust laws are still on the books.

During my tenure with the Los Angeles Police Department, I was the first black woman to serve as the executive officer for the Newton Area Vice in South-Central. Time and again in this role, I have encountered laws that are subject to broad interpretation, which can lead to biased enforcement. While there should be some discretion in enforcing vice infractions, too much discretion in an ill-conceived law introduces bias.

One outdated law in particular is often wrongly enforced: California’s statute Criminalization of loitering for prostitution, enacted in 1995 during the tough-on-crime era.

In September, state legislatures passed SB 357 to repeal this loitering law. If the law Gov. Gavin Newsom achieves what is about to happen should he put it into effect immediately.

The provisions of the Loitering Act allow law enforcement officers to make arrests if they suspect individuals are or are recruiting sex workers. But without clear enforcement standards, officers form these suspicions with little more than guesswork and their own biases about a person’s neighborhood or race. gender and clothing. Arrests under this law can result in a criminal record that will affect their future employment and even housing, changing their lives forever.

In Los Angeles, Data A 2019 report found that black residents were grossly overrepresented in sex work-related loitering charges. Black adults educated 56% of people Charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution, although charged less than 9% of the urban population and only 38% of all fees related to prostitution. Almost 70% of those charged under the Loitering Act were women. In Compton, women – cisgender and trans – were 100% of all those arrested for the indictment, and 72% of these were black. In comparison, other groups, including White, Latino, and Asian, were charged significantly lower fees.

The criminalization rate for loitering laws for black residents of Los Angeles is also far higher than for other common crimes, such as alcohol or drug offenses, where black residents are similarly overrepresented 24% of arrests.

The subjective enforcement enabled by existing laws discourages people – often crime survivors themselves – from reporting suspected sex trafficking and prevents survivors of rape and assault from reporting these crimes. Although often victims of physical and sexual violence, Many sex workers do not go to the police for fear of being arrested while making complaints.

Although a 2019 law grants immunity to sex workers that they won’t be arrested for their jobs when they report a crime, their distrust of law enforcement remains, and they still have to worry about being arrested for the law lurking around.

SB 357 will enable law enforcement to do our jobs better by reducing that mistrust. Therefore, the bill is supported by the State’s largest anti-trafficking organization, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking, the LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality California and a nonprofit group I belong to, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which brings together police, judges, prosecutors and other criminal justice professionals for reform.

The reality of the old-fashioned loitering law is that it limits the ability of police officers to ensure public safety by targeting and harming some of our most vulnerable communities. Removal will better protect people from sex trafficking and abuse, thereby promoting public safety.

Even repealing the Loitering Act won’t change several states Laws criminalizing sex work and solicitation of sex work; they stay in the books. SB 357 is not about whether adults should be able to sell sex to another adult. What it does is put an end to unjust, racist and transphobic harassment that is making our streets less safe.

Police officers’ job is to enforce the law, not make it. That’s why it’s critical that lawmakers get rid of bad laws that make it difficult for officials to do their jobs. Newsom can uphold Californians’ commitment to safety and equality by signing SB 357.

Cheryl Dorsey served with the Los Angeles Police Department for 20 years and is now retired. She is a consultant for the Action partnership for law enforcement agencies. Op-Ed: California’s loitering law is discriminatory and unsafe

Caroline Bleakley

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