People who have visited Grant Street on Buffalo's West Side in recent weeks have probably spotted bright yellow signs that read: “Attention Johns, You are being watched.”
Although the neighborhood has been experiencing an upswing in development in recent years, a recurring prostitution problem has spurred some business owners, residents, and a city lawmaker to call for swift action.
Niagara District Council member David Rivera wants law enforcers to consider reviving an earlier practice that involved the city posting the photographs of people convicted of soliciting prostitutes on the Police Department's website.
Rivera, a retired Buffalo police officer, said he believes targeting "johns" is an effective way to reduce prostitution.
“They come into the city, are using the services of prostitutes, going back home to their families and their families aren’t aware of it. There’s potential risks to their families as well. And because of it, I think we need to be a little more aggressive in terms of posting pictures of johns," Rivera told WBFO.
Advocates of the practice of "shaming" patrons of prostitutes note that the tactic has helped to curb the problem in other cities.
“We have to make sure not only that we arrest the prostitute, but we also start arresting those johns that are coming into the city, coming into the neighborhood, soliciting prostitutes," Rivera said. "We want to make sure that there’s a price to pay if you come into the city to do that kind of stuff.
Over the past several years, at least a dozen new businesses have opened on Grant Street. Many have credited the resurgence at least in part to a number of immigrants and refugees who have settled in the neighborhood and started their own businesses.
Rivera has represented the West Side on the Common Council for nearly eight years. He says he wants to make sure prostitution doesn't become an obstacle to continued development on Grant Street.
“It’s something that we want to make sure we deal with since we’re investing so much money on the West Side and particularly on Grant Street, we’re starting to see a lot of excitement and energy. So we’d like to see the Police be a little more aggressive with regards to prostitutes and johns.”