Arrests say no; some say yes: ‘World’s oldest profession’ in Northeast Minneapolis

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Prostitution is a bigger problem than the arrest numbers suggest. When federal agents busted an alleged brothel two months ago, the news drew attention to what some characterize as a persistent nuisance in neighborhoods along Central Avenue: men looking for sex.

Arrest numbers for prostitution in Northeast are very low compared to other parts of the city. Police in the second precinct made just six arrests for prostitution in all of 2006. In the third precinct, in South Minneapolis, officers made about six prostitution arrests per week last year.

“I will not say it is not existent,” said Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Greg Reinhardt, who works in the police department’s 2nd precinct, which covers Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis. However, Central Avenue is hardly a hot spot for prostitution, he said, and what occurs doesn’t rise to the level of priority the precinct’s officers place on burglary and violent crime.

Several people who work along Central Avenue north of Lowry Avenue say prostitution is a bigger problem than the arrest numbers suggest. And the Northeast Citizen Patrol reports observing plenty of suspicious activity in the same area.

“Definitely, people know where to go,” said John Schulte, president of the Northeast Citizen Patrol. “I don’t know how word spreads, but it does.”

Schulte sat in an idling black Camry on a recent evening, observing from a distance as a woman struck up a conversation with a man behind a Central Avenue apartment building. Schulte recognized the woman standing in the alley. A volunteer recently placed her under citizen’s arrest for lewd behavior after she lifted her shirt in front of him.

“They’re probably negotiating right now,” Schulte said.

The woman is one of about half a dozen who engage in prostitution in the area, Schulte said. She wanders the busy avenues in Northeast–Central, Lowry, sometimes University– looking for men who will pay her anything so that she can fuel her chemical addictions, he said.

Schulte put the car in drive and slowly rode down the alley for a closer look. The woman, wearing short jean shorts and a dark tank top, stashed a can of Budweiser behind a concrete pillar and glared as the car rolled past.

The worst side effect from prostitutes, Schulte said, is that they attract men looking to pay for sex. He said women in the neighborhood have been hassled and embarrassed by men on the prowl.

When Mohammed Khan and his cousin opened their granite cabinet, flooring and counter-top business on Central Avenue this year, Khan said he thought the location–six blocks north of the police station–would be relatively free of crime.

A few months after opening, though, Khan said he’s seen plenty of suspicious behavior outside their three large front windows. He has no doubts what he sees relates to prostitution.

“It’s obvious,” Khan said. “You see the same girls on a regular basis, walking back and forth all day… You know there’s something going on.”

Dominic Heim, a cashier at Central Avenue Liquors, said they also recognize a group of women and refuse to serve them. They’ve also had to ask them to leave their parking lot.

Sam Fudlosid, a clerk at the Dollar Plus Store, said he personally has been approached by women outside the store.

“They say stuff that you’re supposed to read between the lines, like do you want to have a good time,” Fudlosid said. “It’s just so obvious around here. I don’t know why someone doesn’t take care of it.”

Reinhardt said there is about a block and a half stretch of Central Avenue where prostitution is a known issue. Police are aware of a small group of prostitutes who work the area, and those women are often arrested for other offenses, he said.

Northeast doesn’t have any of the typical signs of a serious prostitution problem. When things are bad, Reinhardt said, women can usually be seen working the streets in the early morning, around 5 a.m., as commuters are coming into the city.

The other evidence that doesn’t show up is trash, he said.

“When it’s really bad… there’s stuff that’s left behind,” such as tissues, condoms and drug paraphernalia.

What is observed can easily be misinterpreted, too, he said. Some of the behavior associated with prostitution–getting in and out of cars, for example–is also associated with drug dealing. He said people shouldn’t leap to conclusions.

“Every young lady standing on the corner is not a prostitute, nor is every group of young men standing on the corner a gang,” he said.

He said it’s difficult to say how accurately the situation is portrayed by the arrest numbers–six so far this year, six last year, seven in 2005, and three in 2004. A better measure might be a walk along Central Avenue.

“Can women walk up and down the street and not be accosted?” Reinhardt asked. “I would say yes, for the most part.”