AUSTIN (KXAN) - - Austin police rounded up 21 men on prostitution-related offenses during a two-night sting operation along a stretch of South Congress Avenue.
It's the second such operation this year as part of an ongoing effort to clean up the area from Oltorf Street south to Sheraton Avenue, where police say 17 reported sexual assaults and rapes occurred since the beginning of the year. Compare that with 16 in the area in all of 2012.
In the latest operation, female officers working undercover posed as prostitutes. When men in cars stopped to chat and a verbal arrangement was made to pay for sex, the women directed the ‘johns' to a dark, dead-end street nearby.
Uniformed Austin police taking part in the operation would catch up with the vehicle, stop it and arrest the driver. The men's information was processed nearby before they were booked at the Travis County jail. First time offenders charged with soliciting or engaging in prostitution-related activities face a Class B misdemeanor. Police also charged some men with drug-related offenses like marijuana possession.
"It's just continued to be a problem and so what we're trying to do is address it random times during the year to make sure that they (the criminal elements) know that we're still out here," said Sgt. Maurice Forshee with Austin Police.
Police said they know the prostitution problem won't go away completely, and are trying to calm things down for a little while. They said areas known for prostitution can be a breeding ground for other crimes, like vehicle burglaries, home break-ins, even violent crimes.
Before an earlier police sting in March, prostitutes were getting bold and aggressive, according to businesses along South Congress and north of Oltorf. The area is a mix of newer condominiums and businesses and older establishments.
"They (would) just come up and proposition people, take cigarette butts from our ashtrays, come in, try and get a drink for free, just bother our customers," said Steven King, who manages a cocktail lounge in the area.
Austin Police won't say when their ‘street cleaning' crew will return, but Forshee believes they're making a difference.
"I think it's getting better," he said, "I really do. Years back it seemed like there was a lot more of it."
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