Tampa City Council passes impound fee on prostitution and drug charges
Tampa City Council passed an ordinance Thursday morning they hope will reduce prostitution and drug slinging in neighborhoods. The so-called John ordinance allows police to impound vehicles used in those crimes. The fee to get the car back will be $500.
During the first reading early this month, Council member Mary Mulhern said the steep fee might punish families who only have one car. And today she appealed to the financial woes the ordinance might cause.
“As a revenue generator may also end up costing us in the cost of legal costs of defending it, so I can’t support it.”
She also implied that a law like this might be asserting guilt before conviction.
“You are judged and penalized at the same time by the police department and your hearing would be scheduled later and I think that the fact that we’re putting this hefty penalty on getting your car back is actually an incentive for our police officers to arrest more people.”
Council member Yvonne Capin rejected Mulhern’s concerns that perpetrators’ rights might be violated.
“Neighborhood residents have civil rights too. They have the right to live in a safe environment that fosters a friendly place for families to live and work and raise their children.”
Six members of the public urged council to give the Tampa Police Department the tools to stamp out drug deals and streets lined with prostitutes. One of them, resident Susan Long, said women who turn to prostitution need to be helped, but going after the men who solicit them may be a step in the right direction.
“And they say one of the ways to go after the Johns is one, make it public that they were arrested for soliciting prostitution. Two, make sure that their family knows and they get family pressure as well as public pressure. And three, make it painful for them. What we’re doing here on this ordinance is one, notifying their families – spouses, significant others – that that’s what they were doing. Two, making it painful for them.”
The ability of police to impound vehicles after an arrest isn’t new, but the fine is. Currently, a suspect can get their vehicle back for only the cost of towing and storage. Once the ordinance is enacted, there will also be an additional $500 civil fee. But Tampa resident Pete Johnson said it’s the price that comes with breaking the law.
“Council needs to give TPD the powers to correct the problems that we have in our neighborhoods regardless of any kind of hardship. I’m sorry, you break the law, it’s a hardship. You get a speeding ticket, you get a fine, it’s a hardship. It’s a hardship on your family; it’s a hardship on everybody. That’s how we protect our neighborhoods, by developing some sort of hardship to keep people from breaking the law.”
Whether or not the price of getting busted will deter would-be Johns or drug dealers is up in the air. But council chair, Charlie Miranda said it’s a step in the right direction both for public safety and for the housing market.
“When you look at the retail value or home values of your dwelling and you look at the amount of money it is costing society – all of us – you’ll be surprised what little things can do. And this is one little thing and a foot forward to hopefully resolving some of the problems. We’re never going to get rid of all the problems.”
In a statement Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “this is one of the best tools we have to help combat prostitution and that's why cities across the country have adopted similar measures."
The ordinance will go into effect as soon as it is signed by council chair Charlie Miranda and Mayor Buckhorn. That could happen as early as Friday.
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