"Prostitution is dropping on Capitol Hill," says Lieutenant Eric Sano, commander of the Seattle Police Department's vice unit. He says that the neighborhood's Pike/Pine corridor, between 10th Avenue and Ninth Avenue, has historically been a prostitution hot spot monitored by law enforcement authorities. But now, he says, "Our arrest statistics in the area are down. And 911 calls have also dropped." Officially, the police department hasn't pinpointed why prostitution trends are shifting, but Sano speculates that it may result from gentrification in the Pike/Pine neighborhood.
The trend comes to light as officials consider changing the boundaries of six so-called Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution (SOAP) zones, which municipal judges created in the 1980s to curb the illegal sexy times. When women are arrested for prostitution, they're asked to sign a SOAP order. If they enter one of these zones afterward, they can be immediately arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. But now, it seems, Capitol Hill is no longer the sex destination it once was.
Meanwhile, about two miles northwest, police say prostitution is up near Seattle Center.
Judges have said that while the boundaries of the anti-prostitution zones may shift, the area of SOAP zones should remain even overall. So when one SOAP boundary is expanded, another must shrink, Sano says. "They don't want to make the whole city a SOAP zone."
Which is why City Attorney Pete Holmes, on behalf of the police department, is asking a Seattle Municipal Court judge to dissolve the long-held anti-prostitution area on Capitol Hill and expand the anti-prostitution boundaries downtown to encompass an area known by police as "the track."
"The track" is a roughly one-square-mile section of downtown next to Seattle Center. It overlaps with a current SOAP zone that runs one block on either side of Aurora Avenue North from Denny Way to North 145th Street. The proposed perimeter of the new zone would be Mercer Street to the north, Fifth Avenue North to the west, Fifth Avenue to the southwest, Lenora Street to the southeast, and Westlake Avenue to the east. Last summer, a six-month police sting conducted in the area, called Operation Fast Track, netted dozens of pimps, johns, and prostitutes.
Holmes's attorneys made their case for the boundary adjustment on May 27 before Judge Fred Bonner, who's expected to make his decision in the coming weeks.