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Police trying to curb transgender prostitution

Northern District police plan to use everything from stings to warning letters to stop what they say is a persistent problem of transgender prostitution in south Charles Village.

"I'm getting a lot of complaints," district commander Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper told 20 area residents at a meeting in district headquarters Tuesday, Dec. 13.

A vice sting operation is "upcoming," Tapp-Harper said.

"Format letters" are also planned, to warn motorists whose cars are seen "lingering" in the area, she said.

And police said they are keeping a thick binder book on known transgender prostitutes and their clients. Tapp-Harper held it aloft during the meeting.

Tapp-Harper and other police officials urged people to call in the license plate numbers of motorists seen meeting with suspected prostitutes.

The highest concentration of trangender prostitution is between 20th and 25th streets on St. Paul, Charles and Calvert Street in the Old Goucher neighborhood, police said.

Peter Duvall, Old Goucher Community Association president, said people on crime walks at midnight in the neighborhood have witnessed conversations that they suspected were between prostitutes and would-be clients.

Other residents at the meeting complained about cars honking and other loud noise that they associate with trangender prostitution.

Tapp Harper cited 42 arrests this year for prostitution in general, but said she couldn't immediately provide a breakdown of how many involved transgenders.

Some residents said the problem appears intractable, and asked for more drastic measures, like posting tag numbers on the Internet.

A follow-up meeting is being planned for January to discuss community strategies to fight the prostitution problem, said Diana Mitchell, of the Charles Village Community Benefits District.

Resident Odette Ramos, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council this year, offered to convene a meeting with some transgenders, who she said complained to her that police and residents are erroneously targeting them.

But Ramos said such a meeting would have to be in a "small environment," with only a few representatives of the community and the police department.

"They're not going to come to a meeting like this," she said.

No known transgenders attended the meeting, leading resident Bill Chisenhall to say in frustration, "We are discussing a problem we have no insight on."

Ramos asked if police do sensitivity training. Tapp-Harper said there is "constant training" for police on what constitutes probable cause in prostitution cases.

Some transgenders are victims of violence, and some are helping police, Tapp-Harper said.

"I'm constantly telling officers to be objective," she said.

People shouldn't think in terms of trangender prostitution," said Kristen Haubeson, an aide to State Del. Maggie McIntosh.

"It's not transgender prostitution that's the problem. It's prostitution," said Haubeson, who attended the meeting on behalf of McIntosh.

The problem is not new, said Tapp-Harper, 44, who recalled it as a problem when she was growing up in Greenmount West.

And it's not the only prostitution in north Baltimore, she said, noting that male prostitution is a problem in the Wyman Park area.

Several residents also said they have seen suspected female prostitutes at Howard and 26th streets.

Complaints about prostitution overshadowed Tapp-Harper's presentation of new statistics showing that overall year-to-date crime has dropped significantly in Charles Village.

And some said Charles Village is getting a reputation as crime-prone.

Landlady Evalyn Tyson said potential tenants ask her whether the area is safe.

Local merchant Richard Burnham, owner of Graphic Imaging, said, "It seems like every week, (the media) is saying something about Charles Village. You feel like you're going to throw up your hands."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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