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Clients of prostitutes will receive 'Dear John' letters

Roser Park neighbors are collecting vehicle information when they suspect dirty deeds.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- It is a genuine "Dear John" letter.

The salutation makes it clear.

Using the slang term for a prostitute's customer, some Roser Park residents plan to send letters to men they see doing business with women working near the neighborhood.

"We can't tell the women to stop what they're doing. We have no pull with them," said Chris Kelly, who is leading the neighborhood's ad hoc anti-prostitution committee.

Instead, residents are going after the demand side of the street economy.

As prostitution activity is noticed, neighbors are encouraged to collect vehicle information such as make, model, color and tag number, Kelly said.

Vehicle registration information is gleaned from public records and letters are then sent to the vehicle's owner, the appropriate police department and other city officials.

So far, one individual has been sent a letter -- actually the same letter from several residents.

After notifying the addressee that a vehicle registered in his name was spied during an encounter with a prostitute, the letter goes on to say:

"I want to stress to you, in the strongest possible terms, how offended I am that someone with control of your vehicle would use my neighborhood for this activity. My neighbors and I are striving mightily to improve Roser Park, and we're not going to allow drug activity or prostitution to continue unhindered."

The letter's last paragraph says Roser Park residents will "noisily picket" the vehicle owner's house if the vehicle is seen again in the neighborhood.

The effort is not a Roser Park Neighborhood Association project, though Kelly is on the organization's board. It is an informal network of concerned neighbors, Kelly said.

It's not that the area, which is just south of Bayfront Medical Center, has seen a dramatic increase in prostitution, he said. But streetwalkers sometimes appear on Fourth Street S near 11th Avenue.

What Kelly found annoying -- and what sparked this campaign -- was that a prostitute and her customer drove into the neighborhood, entered an alley next to some vacant, city-owned property, parked and went into the vacant garage.

"It's unacceptable," Kelly said.

He compared it to a broken window in a neighborhood: If the window isn't fixed, other deterioration is likely to follow.

No allegation of guilt is made in the letters the residents send. All that is noted is that a vehicle in the registrant's name was used in one or more crimes involving a prostitute.

"If it wasn't me in the car, I would be having a serious conversation with the person who was," Kelly said.

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