In this special report, OnMilwaukee. It's a scene straight out of any cop show. It's approaching 10 p. While thousands of Milwaukeeans are struggling to stay awake long enough to watch the news, I'm riding shotgun in a pickup truck with Dan, a man I've known for only a few hours.
We're cruising in and around an area known as Walnut Hill -- one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in the city -- and we are looking for prostitutes. On the sidewalk ading a dark, drab street, we see a tall, athletic young African-American woman who appears to be in her late teens or early 20s. Dan tells me to roll down my window and pulls over to the curb. The vignette actually took place during one of OnMilwaukee. Drew Olson and Andy Tarnoff split up to capture every angle of the action, tonight with new friend and driver, Detective Dan, who is a veteran vice squad detective.
He's serving as one of our guides during a memorable tour of a side of the city that many people either don't notice -- or simply don't know exists. In late June, Olson observed a group of officers from District Six during an afternoon undercover sting operation in a prostitution "hot spot" that runs from 21st St. Roughly two months later, Olson and Tarnoff returned to the same area with members of the vice squad to watch an afternoon sting looking for "johns" before heading to the near North Side to observe a sweep of prostitutes.
Bill Potterton, who oversaw the District Six operation. In order to protect identities of undercover officers, OnMilwaukee.
Supervisors like Potterton and Lt. Tom Welch didn't mind being identified. That is certainly understandable. Following a three-month period in which Milwaukee police arrested more than 14, people, confiscated guns and seized 37 pounds of cocaine this summer, Chief Nan Hegerty recently spoke of a "societal crisis" in the central city.
In the past few weeks, Milwaukeeans were shocked by news of the shooting deaths of Candace Moss, a year-old middle school student who was hit in the heart by a stray bullet while sitting on her neighbor's porch, and Brandon Sprewer, a year-old Special Olympics athlete who was gunned down in a robbery attempt.
The city was then repulsed by the multiple sexual assault of an year-old girl, who was coerced by two older teens into having sexual contact on Labor Day with up to 19 men, one of whom was 40 years old. A police spokesperson said that the department has brought solicitation charges this year. Given that context, it's not surprising that prostitution arrests don't create major headlines. But, that doesn't stop the police from cracking down.
A quality of life crime "People say it's a victimless crime, and it's not a big deal," says Officer Manny, a beat cop who took part in the District Six sting. You don't want to see guys driving around like that at all hours. You don't want to see condoms on the street.
It's a quality of life thing. It's always quiet on Sunday. I saw a young girl at a bus stop and she was crying. I asked her what happened and some guy had just come by and asked her for sex, thinking she was a prostitute.
She was just waiting for a bus to go to church. I told her,'Get in the car,' and I gave her a ride.
I didn't want anyone else bothering her. For people to whom the word "prostitute" conjures images of Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," Manny's book could be a shock. The women pictured look hardened and most are in throes of drug addiction. I'd say 95 percent of prostitutes on the street level are addicted to crack cocaine. Years ago, it was heroin.
Now, it's almost exclusively crack. Once in awhile, you run into a heroin addict. But, it's mostly crack.
But, we get into it a little deeper when we see Shauna not her real namestanding across from a car in which another woman, whom Shauna said is her sister, is reclining on the passenger side. Do you want to party with us? What bachelor wears a ring to his bachelor party?
Then he looks at me and says, "Get out and let her sit between us. It seldom takes long.
The female officers are not equipped with microphones or radio transmitters and almost always unarmed. There is nowhere to put it. Hurry up and wait At 3 p. During these occasional sweeps, Lt. Thomas Welch of the vice squad asks supervisors from different districts to provide officers to help with the operation. Even though it's one of the most prestigious responsibilities in the force, both cops seem somewhat unfazed.
The shadow car announces each potential pick up over the radio. Then about 10 seconds later: "No go. It's not, they say, all about busting bad guys. After about 40 minutes, the decoy has found a john and given a al to the shadow officer.
The officers slap the portable siren on the dash, crank it up and floor it around the alley. They spring out of their car, surprising the young suspect in the Civic hatchback. He's more clean-cut than you might expect, wearing work clothes, looking like he just ended his shift at a nearby mechanic shop.
The suspect is completely stunned as the officers cuff him, put him in the back of the red Crown Vic and take him to the staging area a few blocks away. They quickly search his car and begin to interview the suspect, who will eventually sit for the next several hours in the back of a van filling with sullen-looking men.
The johns caught in sting operations come from every social, racial and economic strata of the city. Some are laborers driving company trucks, which are impounded until a representative from the business comes to get them.
One man recently propositioned a decoy while riding a bicycle, which was impounded, and another came up on a motorcycle, which was tucked away near the command post. Some of the johns are white-collar workers.
Although many johns are considered not dangerous, some are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, some are carrying weapons or drugs and others get nervous because they are on parole. The first thing he did was call his wife and say, 'Hey, I just got arrested, well, you know, in that part of town where we go once in awhile At the other end of the spectrum are escorts who work in hotels and nightclubs and often get customers through in newspapers or online. They'll do it in a hotel room or wherever.
So, she furnished this apartment and used it for the sole purpose of engaging with her upscale Milwaukee clientele. She was good looking, in good shape for her age and she was doing it for the money. It doesn't matter whether you're using it for yourself or with 20 girls - if that's the primary purpose, it's a whorehouse.
As he speaks, several cars slow down and talk to the decoy, but none proposition her. First, it's a brown sedan that stops to chat, but leaves, presumably spooked.
Then it's a silver mini van Next a black Toyota Highlander makes two passes, so does a Corolla. Later, the decoy will tell me that she had each of the plates memorized by the time the cars passed by. She paces back and forth, looking casual as can be -- but all of her senses are piqued and alert. At p.
The driver stops and tries to get the decoy into his car. Something must feel wrong to the driver, because he changes his mind and leaves. A few minutes later, a red Camry pulls up to the decoy officer.
But he sees the cover car watching from the parking lot, and leaves in a hurry. Finally, the decoy motions us over and suggests we try another corner. We move a few blocks south and east and park a bit father away.