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NPR leaders close ‘revolving door’ of prostitution

Published:   |   Updated: November 11, 2013 at 10:43 AM

NEW PORT RICHEY — An ordinance prohibiting solicitations for prostitution got final passage Tuesday without further comment by New Port Richey City Council members.

But plenty has been said on the subject in the past few months as community leaders have focused on combatting crime.

Past regulations often lead to a “revolving door,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said in October.

Under the new rules, a first offense under the prostitution ordinance could result in up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Repeat offenses could result in six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

City police officials last month said the additional regulations would help empower officers to combat problems.

The final pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, officials say. Besides the prostitution ordinance, the city council took final action on a chronic nuisance ordinance this week by adopting the same fines as state statute. A few months ago, the city began its special magistrate system to hear these types of cases.

For years, law enforcement in West Pasco has been trying to crack down on prostitution, especially along U.S. 19 in the New Port Richey-Port Richey area. The undercover enforcement efforts have targeted both the prostitutes and their would-be customers.

A clause about a pattern of solicitation would apply within two years of the original offense. The rule would apply to violators no matter if they plead no contest on the first offense, finding of guilt with adjudication withheld or conviction.

The definition of “within public view” would also apply to offenses within cars, doorways, building entrances, streets, sidewalks, bridges, alleys, plazas, parks, driveways and parking lots.

Starkey has called the proposed ordinance a “great step.”

“It’s a first step,” Councilman Bill Phillips said in October about the proposed ordinance.

Since April, crime has been on the minds of many New Port Richey leaders.

“The biggest complaint I get is crime in the city,” Mayor Bob Consalvo said then.

The mayor figures about half of the phone calls, emails and other correspondence that he receives comes from residents concerned about crime.

“They’re really frightened” to live in or visit some sections of the city, Consalvo lamented.

“We have to address the crime situation,” Starkey agreed.

Too many places in the city have become hangouts for prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals, Starkey remarked during his first city council meeting April 16. That could stunt efforts to redevelop New Port Richey by attracting more residents and businesses.

The crime issue took on even greater urgency in September when more than a dozen residents demanded changes to “take back the city,” as Chuck Grey and others put it.

Police investigated an Aug. 19 incident when a bullet was fired into a house in the 6800 block of Grand Boulevard. It’s unclear if the shot was fired by accident or deliberately, authorities said.