Sunday, July 03, 2005

Nice Picture, John

Although economics is often pigeon holed as a study that reduces everything to money. That is really unfair. The real driving force behind economics is attempting to understand what motivates people. Then, after recognizing that motivation is fueled by many factors other than money, the economist tries to put a dollar value on those other motivations. *smile*

Actually, economics is a valuable tool to figure out incentives, and how they affect behavior. For example, reducing crime has often been about coercion. The presence of police, the threat of punishment, and of course incarceration, all hopefully reduce crime.

A few years ago, I heard about people in Texas that were fighting a local spa/adult entertainment industry by taking photos of the customers vehicles and posting them on the internet. The possibility of their friends, co-workers, and of course family, seeing their license plates on the site reduced traffic to the area. Later, I learned about judges using shame in various ways, such as requiring a shop lifter to stand outside a store with a sign saying that he shoplifted from the store. I think punishments like this could be much more effective and cost efficient, especially for small crimes, than jail.

Well, Chicago has become one of the most recent local governments to use shame as a part of its law enforcement strategy. It is posting the photos of randomly selected "Johns" who are arrested for solicitation of prostitution.

The city has begun posting the names and photographs of alleged "johns" on the Police Department's Web site for all to see, including spouses, children, employers, friends and neighbors, Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday.

The mayor brushed aside possible constitutional concerns about identifying people accused, but not convicted, of crimes and asserted that the public good outweighs objections by people collared by police. Some social critics contend prostitution is a victimless crime, but solicitation "can ruin a neighborhood" and takes a terrible toll on the providers of sexual services, Daley said.
The photos are not permanent.

The names and partial addresses of 21 people, along with police photographs of 20 of them, were listed at on Tuesday. Police Sgt. Robert Cargie said that there was no specific timetable for removing the photos, but that as the Web site gets more photos, they will be rotated."The photos won't be up there for the rest of their lives," Cargie said.
Also, as I noted above, Chicago is not the innovator of this concept.

"Operation John Be Gone" in Akron, Ohio, "draws the most hits on our Web site by far"--100,000 in its first year of operation said Police Lt. Rick Edwards. "The first thing attorneys for these guys say is, `What can we do about the picture on the Web site?'" Edwards said.

"Their clients are willing to do more time and pay bigger fines rather than having their photo [on display]."No deals are cut with lawyers over the photos, Edwards said, and the public postings have "cut down on the trolling in neighborhoods that used to draw prostitutes."

Denver publicizes information about people convicted of soliciting prostitutes on a community-access television station, and Oakland puts the faces of the convicted on billboards.

From a legalistic point of view, I suppose saying someone has been "arrested" is a true fact and does not legally defame them. From a practical point of view, in those rare cases where someone was innocent, I would take more comfort in knowing that these Johns were convicted, like the Denver and Oakland programs. The program has been subject to criticism.

Patti Buffington, executive director of Genesis House, a social-services agency that helps prostitutes, said she has qualms about the Internet postings, but not on constitutional grounds. Public identification of suspects could lead to violence in the homes of some of the men whose names are posted, Buffington said.

And she said she fears the impact on children who may come across pictures of their fathers. But deterrence is important and, on balance, Buffington said she supports the new campaign.

Interesting point about family violence. As the guys at Freakonomics point out:

My favorite part of the article is the quote about how public identification of the suspects could lead to violence in the homes of some of the men who are arrested. I wonder what the women quoted means? Presumably wives beating up their husbands. Which seems like it is kind of the point of the whole program.
Nonetheless, this form of policing strikes me as a positive development. For those class conscious folks, the shame factor would probably have a much greater impact on the well to do who could easily afford fines or fight hard enough to avoid jail time. Also, shame is much bigger motivator to many people, rich or poor, than getting caught for the crime.

The libertarian debate over the best way to handle prostitution is not an issue for me on this. Even if one believes that prostitution should be legal, one could only support it in a brothel like setting such as is allowed in Nevada. Even in Nevada, illegal street prostitution is a blight on a community and increases other street crime. Effective enforcement is a positive thing.

Of course, the more important question is "does this work?" The article noted that Kansas City did not really see a drop after a pilot program called "John TV." In Chicago, there is a lot of room for improvement.
The Chicago Police Department's vice unit, which handles most of such cases, arrested 3,204 prostitutes and 950 customers last year, officials said. "If we can use a little embarrassment, we are going to do so," said Police Supt. Philip Cline, who appeared with Daley at a downtown news conference. Postings represent "one more deterrent that should make potential customers think twice," he said.
I suppose time will tell. But for one guy, it certainly hasn't been a deterrent.

So I'm perusing the list of pictures on that web page and as I near the bottom, I see a face that looks familiar, going by the name Kenyuata Hester, arrested on 5/27/2005. The face doesn't look familiar because I know him, but rather, because I had just seen his picture one minute earlier. Kenyuata also got arrested on June 5th, and appears in another picture on the webpage!!

Two arrests in roughly one week for soliciting prostitution. I guess that tells you what Kenyuata thinks of the stigma of the internet site. It also tells you Kenyuata is mighty unlucky. He was even arrested in two different places.

Think about the odds. 10,000 to 1 on each arrest. If these were the only two times in that period he sought a prostitute, the odds of being caught twice are 100 million to one. Even if he visits the prostitutes every day, the odds are still astronomically against him getting caught twice. Some guys get lucky and win the lottery against all odds, this guy gets his picture on the web twice in a week.

Let's hope the shame hits home eventually.


At 5:53 PM, Anonymous John from WuzzaDem said...

How did I get mixed up in this?

At 8:29 PM, Blogger KJ said...

It must have been your picture.


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