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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010

Car-seizure bill an empty gesture

Jerked around by the latest public outrage or political whim, police officers are expected to magically heal whatever ails our community at a particular moment simply by showing up and applying pressure to the wound.

Freeway racers, drunk drivers, homeless campers, cell-phone scofflaws, crosswalk-ignorers, drug dealers, bank robbers, red-light runners, purse snatchers, identity stealers and now sex purchasers all end up briefly in the enforcement crosshairs so that we can feel better that something is being done.

The problem with this approach is that crimes get the Click It or Ticket treatment, a surge in police attention that is more about scratching a public itch than about eradicating the source of the irritation.

That's one of the reasons it's difficult to work up enthusiasm for the latest effort to curb sidewalk prostitution by taking away the vehicles of accused customers.

As Mary Vorsino pointed out in her report last week, the business of prostitution has mostly moved online; there were only 276 Honolulu prostitution arrests in 2009 and only 34 men were arrested for trying to pick up a decoy posing as a prostitute.

Still, residents of Waikīkī and Chinatown have to put up with good old fashioned streetwalkers almost every night, and we're sure they don't take much comfort in being told that there are a lot fewer of these public transactions than there used to be.

As proposed by Councilman Charles Djou, the anti-prostitution bill isn't much of a deterrent. It probably wouldn't help in Waikīkī, where customers are tourists on foot or in rental cars; police could only impound a car if the owner is driving.

The larger issue is whether this is the best use of limited police resources when there are so many more threats to public safety. Police arrest more drunk drivers in a week than the 34 men grabbed for soliciting a prostitute last year.

The Djou proposal is a waste of time that doesn't even make us feel better that something is being done about street prostitution.