November 28, 2004

The prostitutes along Main Street in Mesa are nothing new to those who live and work nearby.

For decades, hookers have remained a fixture in the motels and on the street corners despite periodic police crackdowns that send them packing only temporarily.

Any talk of a long-term solution is usually met with a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes by residents and local business owners, Mesa resident and community activist Dave Richins said.

But Richins is ready to take action, especially after a Nov. 6 Tribune article reported an increase in prostitution in the area.

He has spent much of the past week attempting to get business owners, pastors, police, city officials, outreach workers and residents under the same roof for a meeting Tuesday night to do some serious brainstorming.

"It will probably be there on Main Street for a long time, but we’ve got to do something," said Richins, cochairman of Mesa Grande Community Alliance. "Set the standard in our community that this is not OK. Prostitutes and johns need to know that."

"We want to learn how we can help police to be more effective," Richins said.

"They work hard on these issues, and in order for us to kick it up a notch, we need businesses and citizens to know what they can do," he said.

The alliance, which is one of the city’s largest community groups, and city officials have met with police brass about the issue since the article was published.

"This is an area that has wonderful neighborhoods in there, and they deserve to have great quality of life around them," said Vice Mayor Claudia Walters, who plans on attending Tuesday’s meeting. "Police clearly know there’s a problem in this area, and they continue to work on it. They haven’t let up on it."

The corner of Main Street and Alma School Road has been described as "ground zero" for prostitute pickups, and Richins saw it firsthand last week while he passed out fliers about the meeting.

"A john pulled up and picked (a prostitute) up right in front of me," he said. "I told them, ‘We are watching you,’ and they just gave me a puzzled look and took off."

A police sting last month ended with the arrests of 19 men who solicited sex from undercover female police officers at Main and Alma School.

Police hope that if the johns go away, then the hookers will move on as well.

Richins hopes the meeting will be the start of a solution that is more long-term.

"We need to get into the cycle of breaking them out of that lifestyle and not just push them into another community," Richins said. "We’re hoping one of the churches steps up to fill the void with some kind of outreach."

Alliance meeting

What: Mesa Grande Community Alliance meeting - Drugs and prostitution

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: East Valley Institute of Technology, 1601 W. Main St.

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