DAYTON — A couple of the guys look like college students who could be spending their money on dates. Others are gray-haired grandfather types. Nobody chats up the fellow next to him. Most won’t even share their first name.
Dayton Probation Officer Jennifer Osborne sets the tone for the all-day class at the Montgomery County Job Center.
“This is John School. All of you are here for soliciting a prostitute. All of you are over 18,” she said. “Take off your coats and hats. You’re going to be here for awhile.”
It’s 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20. Fourteen men have been ordered, as a condition of their probation, to attend the school run by the Dayton Municipal Court Adult Probation Department.
On average, Dayton police make about 400 prostitution-related arrests per year for soliciting, loitering to solicit, public indecency or prostitution. This school deals exclusively with johns, men looking to buy sex.
Since June 2008, 139 men have been ordered to attend the school. Of those, just two have been arrested a second time on similar charges.
“I think the John School is beginning to have an impact,” Dayton police Sgt. Gary Lowe said.
‘It’s a quality of life issue’
In 2007, 159 men were arrested in Dayton for soliciting prostitution. In 2009, the first full year of the John School, those arrests were down by 20.
The men are from all around the Dayton region.
“If we could cut down on the number of johns who come to Dayton to commit crimes, we’d be better off,” Lowe said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”
An analysis of Dayton police arrest data by the Dayton Daily News found that the majority of johns live inside Dayton’s city limits. The top two home ZIP codes of arrestees are 45403 and 45404, both in East Dayton with a portion of Riverside, the analysis found. Those two areas were home to 241 each and account for half of all men arrested for soliciting prostitution or loitering to solicit during the last 10 years.
The next four ZIP codes all include Dayton along with portions of Harrison and Butler townships and Vandalia.
The top source of johns outside the city was the 45424 ZIP code, which was home to 30 arrestees, and is mostly made up of Huber Heights, but also includes Riverside, East Dayton and a corner of Greene County.
Johns are charged $250 to attend the school. The fee covers program costs and will eventually fund a safe house for prostitutes trying to get out of the lifestyle.
Ed Utacht, Dayton’s assistant city prosecutor, draws the men out with questions. He asks for details of their arrests.
- Four said police caught them with prostitutes.
- Five solicited undercover police officers for sex.
- One thought he was arranging to meet a prostitute over the Internet via Craigslist. He hooked up with an undercover cop.
- Others claim they were just “helping a girl out.”
“I figured she was just out walking. I offered her a ride,” an older gentleman said.
A uniformed officer pulled the couple over around 3 a.m. in Dayton.
“I hope everyone understands that it is no one’s fault but your own that you are here,” Utacht said.
‘No-deal policy’ for prostitution arrests
The assistant prosecutor tells the men his first impression of a prostitute was shaped by the movies, but he has found that image off the mark.
“I was picturing a leggy girl in fishnet hose,” he said. “That’s not the girl you’re getting in Dayton. If she looks too good to be true, she is too good to be true.”
Attractive prostitutes are often undercover cops or new to the business.
“The girls (prostitutes) out there in Dayton are not good looking,” Utacht said. “What are you thinking when you do this?”
Utacht said the city has a “no-deal policy” for prostitution-related offenses.
“If you’re charged with soliciting a prostitute, we’re not going to accept pleas. With a second conviction, we’re going to expect you to do jail time,” he said.
The men get a five-minute break when Utacht leaves. They must ask permission to go to the restroom.
The next lesson is more graphic and raw.
The men look at photos of sex organs inflamed by sexually transmitted diseases. The johns squirm, one covers his eyes with his hands. The images, from Public Health — Dayton and Montgomery County, flash across a screen for nearly an hour.
“We’ve got 48 prostitutes in Dayton, men and women, who are HIV positive,” an undercover Dayton detective said. “If we have 48 convicted prostitutes who are HIV positive, you can imagine how many more there are that we don’t know about.”
The detective, who asked his name not be used due to the nature of his job, said vice cops role play, like actors, to catch johns.
“We watch the cars. When you drive up and down Main Street eight times, we know what you’re doing. You might think no one is watching you, but we are,” he said. “We don’t wear suits. We don’t wear ties. We drive ugly cars.”
Lowe said there are consequences even for individuals who drive away without speaking to a prostitute.
The Dayton Police Department is sending letters to individuals seen frequenting high-prostitution areas such as Xenia Avenue or North Main Street.
“Residents can call in and give us a license plate number and a description of the driver. We’ll send a warning letter to their house,” Lowe said.
East Dayton activist Sandy Melke doesn’t let her grandchildren play outside because of prostitution activity. She asks the men how many have children, especially daughters.
“How would you feel if your daughter climbed on your knees and said, ‘Daddy, I want to be a prostitute,’ ” Melke said.
How John School began
Norma Ryan, a program manager for the Southeast Weed and Seed, said the John School was designed to educate the men, not humiliate them.
“If you feel wronged today, sorry,” she said. “Not having a good day? That’s what we hope.”
The weed and seed program is a community-based strategy to weed out crime and seed in positive programs.
The John School sprang from citizen complaints about drug houses, Sunrise Center Director Joanne Hale said. She quickly learned there is a direct connection between drug houses and prostitution activity.
Prostitutes, she said, can be ticking time bombs.
They are bipolar, on (illegal) drugs. Their moods swing up and down. While you are enjoying your moment, anything could happen,” Hale said. “You’re motivated by sex. They’re motivated by money.”
That lesson proved fatal to a 57-year-old Arcanum man. Photos of his decomposed body are part of the John School curriculum.
The former inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration was killed in 2004, after he had solicited a prostitute for sex via a telephone dating service.
“He was a normal dude. He had a wife, a job. He walked into a room and got shot in the head,” the detective said.
The man’s body was discovered in the trunk of his car 24 days after he disappeared.
A retired Hamilton man, arrested in November as part of a sting operation and ordered to attend the school, called himself a “poster boy” for bad consequences after a soliciting arrest.
He would not give his name.
“I lost everything. My wife is debating whether to stay. I pass people in the community who will turn around and walk away. I have zero friends,” he said. “I wish everybody thinking about doing this, could come to something like this (school) first.”
Reporter Ken McCall contributed to this story.
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