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Posing as prostitutes, police sting would-be 'Johns'

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The woman leans on the door of the truck. Letting her long hair fall over her bare shoulder, she talks to the driver through the window.

The woman steps back, standing in the motel parking lot, letting him see her tight, pink pants and the low-cut top, showing off her cleavage. She turns around, slowly, in a circle, and returns to the window.

The man -- small and scruffy in a large white truck -- is unsure. He asks about the room. He bickers about her price. He wonders if she's a for-real prostitute. He apparently decides sex is worth the risk. He offers the woman $20.

Across the street from the Hotel Magnolia parking lot, three police officers sit in a green, unmarked car. Their tinted windows are rolled up and the engine idles. The nose of the car is pointed at the 6326 Old Dixie Highway parking lot transaction. They watch the woman work, and listen to the man's $20 offer through a microphone hidden in her skimpy clothes.

The woman, an undercover officer posing as a street-walking prostitute during the Clayton County Police Department's sting operation, on Tuesday, walks off toward an imaginary room.

She raises both her hands, as a signal, and the police rev the car across the road, screeching up to the would-be "John," arresting him on charges of soliciting a prostitute.

During the first 15 minutes of the sting operation, with decoys posing on the side of Old Dixie Highway, between Tara Boulevard and the on-ramp to Interstate 75, police arrested two men, who allegedly approached the undercover officers and offered them money, said Capt. Don Colburn, head of the Special Operations Unit.

At the mobile command post, behind the Holiday Inn, two police-equipped RVs rumble as the decoy officer -- still dressed like a prostitute, but acting like a cop -- fills out an arrest-warrant application for the man in the white truck, sending him to the Clayton County Jail on charges of "pandering."

Nearby, Lt. Rebecca Brown instructs younger, female officers on how to act like a prostitute, showing them how to walk with a rolling sway, wave and make eye contact.

"It doesn't matter what you got on," Brown tells the three women, "because they only got one thing on their mind."

Brown, who has acted as the decoy in previous sting operations, said the hardest part of pretending to be a prostitute is learning how to lie, and keep your story straight and believable.

During the first six hours, of the nine-hour sting operation, police arrested 11 men. The four women worked in rotation, going out on the Old Dixie Highway curb, two at a time, walking up and down in front of the hotels, looking at men, and making themselves approachable.

The police have been running regular prostitution stings for a year and a half, catching scores of men, from teenagers to octogenarians. The last operation was in March, along the same stretch of hotels and motels on Old Dixie Highway.

"We've been in this area before," Clayton Police Chief Jeff Turner said. "Every time we get a complaint, we're going to keep coming back, until they finally get a clue not to be conducting this business in Clayton County."

Cleaning up prostitution is a long, slow business, Turner maintains. Fighting the demand side of the business, with a large number of sting operations and a large number of misdemeanor arrests, is more effective than attacking the supply end, arresting the prostitutes, Turner said.

"Prostitutes aren't going to deviate too far. If the money is good, they figure it's worth the chance," he said.

The hope of the sting operations is that men who solicit prostitutes will, either not do it anymore, or go looking for street walkers in another county.

"It's an ongoing effort to clean up the area," Turner said. "Not only to get rid of the prostitutes, but of all other illegal activities and crimes. With the cooperation of the county, we're going to make a difference."