NEW PORT RICHEY — An ordinance prohibiting solicitations for prostitution could come up for final approval soon before the New Port Richey City Council.
Additional regulations would help empower police officers to combat problems from prostitution, Police Chief Kim Bogart told council members last week.
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.
Under the proposed New Port Richey ordinance, a first offense could result in up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Repeat offenses would mean stiffer penalties for violators, according to the document introduced Oct. 16. Second and subsequent offenses could result in six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
A clause about a pattern of solicitation would apply within two years of the original offense. The rule would apply to violators who 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.
The current regulations often lead to a “revolving door,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said.
Starkey called the proposed ordinance a “great step.” He would like to pair the solicitation regulations, however, with an ordinance against trespassing. He figures prostitutes frequent the same area.
Trespassing might not apply in prostitution cases, Bogart advised.
“It’s a first step,” Councilman Bill Phillips added 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.
For instance, Starkey said Tuesday night, even if the city reopens Hacienda Hotel at some point, nobody would want to go there if it becomes a haven for lawbreakers loitering outside.
Neighborhood policing could become a priority, city leaders pointed out.
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.