Gilbert has prosecuted just one case of prostitution in 10 years — and doesn’t expect to see an increase in that trend. But the Town Council will meet Tuesday to approve an update to town code meant to fix ambiguous language that could suggest prostitution — and other crimes — are only civil violations.
Town Manager George Pettit said the fix is only meant as a precaution and aims to clean up a clerical error made recently in the code.
It came to the attention of town attorneys during the prosecution of a litter crime. Crimes of litter, including tossing cigarettes out the windows of vehicles, are prosecuted with criminal charges.
A town ordinance approved in February 2005 inadvertently suggested that all crimes in the town’s code could be civil violations, according to town officials. Those crimes include prostitution, littering, graffiti, loud noise and property damage.
Town attorney Phyllis Smiley points out that state law requires prostitution in particular to be considered at least a Class 1 misdemeanor statewide, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine, or both. Many of the other crimes, including litter, are also in state law.
“They’re all criminal offenses, unless it says otherwise in the individual section,” Smiley said. “This was just an ambiguity that needed to be cleared up.”
Town prosecutor Lynn Arouh said in many cases if state law and town code conflict, whichever an officer used when filing a report is followed in prosecution. She said state law was used for her only prostitution case in 10 years.
Police Lt. Joe Ruet said his department rarely — if ever — deals with prostitution, though in rare cases a suspect in another charge will admit to being a prostitute, he said.
If approved by the council, the amended ordinance would take effect immediately as an emergency measure.
“It’s not a real problem in Gilbert, and we want to keep it that way,” Arouh said.