Neighborhood complaints lead to undercover Germantown prostitution sting

It happened almost immediately after he moved to Germantown.

Robert Jones, originally from Atlanta, Ga., came to Philadelphia about a year ago after taking a job with the Boeing Company in Delaware County.

A few months later, he started renting a place on the 100 block of W. Queen Lane near Wayne Avenue in the neighborhood’s Penn-Knox section. By the second night of his stay there, the 39-year-old said he was approached by a prostitute while parking outside of his new home. It was the first of at least a dozen such encounters to date.

“If they don’t realize I’m a resident, then that’s a sign that I’m pulling up for business I guess. And so they approach,” Jones said.

The unsolicited conversations almost always start with a request for a cigarette and typically end with a vague, but direct solicitation.

Jones has lived all over – California, Nebraska, Mississippi and England, just to name a few – and is not a stranger to the sight of prostitutes. The situation in Germantown, he said, is different.

“We have older ladies in crocheted clothing. It makes me wonder if there’s some guy turning his family out of his house,” said Jones. “I feel bad for them.”

He suspects that at least a couple of the handful of women he regularly sees wandering around his block and nearby are mentally disabled.

The Philly transplant said he doesn’t feel threatened by the women and isn’t particularly offended by the activity, sentiments he attributes to the temporariness of his time in the neighborhood. It’s not a situation he’d be willing to live with if he stuck around.

“It’s not an existence I would want to deal with, with my children,” said Jones, who hasn’t called police to complain. Other nearby residents, though, have.

Police vice squad reacts to neighborhood complaints

Lt. Charles Green with the Citywide Vice Enforcement Unit said a number of neighbors raised concerns with the 14th Police District, which contains part of Jones’ block, after spotting sexual activity in the back seats of cars and finding used condoms on the street.

Those complaints resulted in an undercover operation where a total of six women were arrested on misdemeanor charges over the course of two days, Nov. 25 and Dec. 3.

One of the offenders was cuffed on the 100 block of W. Queen Lane, another on the unit block; others were arrested on Chelten Avenue, and Anderson and McMahon streets. Those arrested ranged in age from 27 to 45 and lived on Wayne Avenue, Crittenden Street or in other parts of the city.

“We were able to send some undercover officers out there and arrest these females because they solicited our officers,” said Green.

It’s not an area to which Green’s unit is typically sent. Other parts of the city, such as some sections of Kensington, are more routinely on the radar. But it doesn’t make the problem any less of a priority, said Green.

“Prostitution is certainly the root cause of other crimes,” he said, including substance abuse, assault, rape, burglary and robbery.

Asked how successful his unit’s prostitution-focused operations are at ridding a particular area of the illegal trade, Green said there are short-term results.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’re ridding the world of this profession, but we do provide a sense of relief for the community on a temporary basis,” he said. “We just got to keep going at it.”

Green said his unit will continue to keep an eye on prostitution in the area.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.