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Pinellas Park Beacon
Decoy officer: Most prostitutes are on drugs
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PINELLAS PARK – On the streets she is “Lisa.”

The actual name of the city police decoy officer who plays a streetwalker arresting men who seek the favors of prostitutes cannot be disclosed.

Lisa joined the force in 2002. Her husband is a Clearwater vice officer who plays a John, men who seek illicit sex, or a male prostitute in parks and other public places. Together they have two children.

“Our local prostitutes dress up in shorts, tanktops and sandals,” said Lisa, who moved here from New Jersey. “Up north they advertise themselves by wearing spike heels, net stockings and short skirts.”

Most Pinellas County hookers are “freelancers,” meaning they are not part of organized crime like in big northern cities. Some have pimps, but most are on their own and must fend for themselves after arrests or problems with their Johns.

During a recent sting operation Lisa arrested several men for trying to pick her up in the 6600 block of U.S. 19.

Street sex costs between $10 and $50, or whatever the hooker can get. One man offered a decoy officer coupons from a local restaurant instead of cash.

“I don’t feel sorry for them because they know what they’re doing,” Lisa said of the men she has arrested. “I do feel sorry for their wives and families.”

Lisa said many street prostitutes are drug abusers and carry sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

Since most men request straight sex, she said, they also can infect their innocent wives or girlfriends.

Prostitutes can earn $600 a day and more turning tricks.

Lisa works with officers that are parked nearby as she walks the streets alone.

Men and even women who look for lesbian liaisons know the game. They look for dirty feet from road dust. Real prostitutes often demand that a man expose himself to ensure that the potential John isn’t a policeman.

Male decoy officers wear artificial body parts so they don’t have to expose their actual selves.

“We can’t entrap a suspect,” Lisa said. “There are things that cannot be said, such as offering sex for money. The suspect has to make the initial offer.”

Decoy cops are wired and the transactions are videotaped from a nearby unmarked car.

Most offenders are young to middle age men, but Lisa has been approached by “old guys with no teeth.”

One offender was in his 80s and on a bicycle.

“I’m on the street alone with no identification or weapon for protection,” Lisa said.

Once a man grabbed her arm.

“You have to be quick acting and a fast thinker,” Lisa said.

Seekers of illicit sex use all sorts of signals.

One store at the old Pinellas Park Mall on U.S. 19 was a well-known hangout for gays looking to score. Tapping a foot while sitting in a men’s room stall was a signal of availability.

“The public would be surprised at the amount of men looking to pick up prostitutes,” Lisa said. “They come from all walks of life and economic backgrounds.”

Officers write down license numbers of cars seen circling prostitute areas. After 30 days a letter is sent to the home of those motorists that basically says they were seen where they should not have been.

“It’s usually the wife who opens the letter because it’s on police department stationary,” one officer said. “I’m sure it makes for interesting dinner conversations.”

Sometimes wives have to bail out their wandering husbands.

There also is humor. Once Lisa was working a detail when two Florida Highway Patrol officers, not knowing that she was a policewoman, ordered her to leave the area.

“I’m a decoy officer,” she said.

The troopers turned beet red and left.

Tim Caddell, the city’s media director, is a former St. Petersburg undercover vice cop.

“It’s changed since the 1970s when I was on the streets,” Caddell said. “I was a decoy officer for five years, but today prostitution is more organized.”

Organized meaning that prostitution has expanded from the streets through the Internet, escort services and alternative newspaper advertisements

“Remember also,” Caddell said, “back in the 1970s there was no AIDS, or at least it wasn’t as prevalent. Today, though, it’s an entirely different story.”
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