Drug Unit active in prostitution roundup

ALBANY, Ga. -- Responding to complaints from commissioners, citizens and the law enforcement officers, the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit has launched an attack against local "ladies of the night."

Maj. Bill Berry, commander of the Drug Unit, said five separate operations have been carried out since late January, in various parts of the city -- two of those targeting the johns, or men who seek sex for money.

Berry said his officers have made 20 prostitution arrests during recent weeks.

Berry said the operations are often carried out with male and female undercover agents, "borrowed" from surrounding cities. The out-of-town undercover agents are not known to local prostitutes or other criminal elements, Berry said.

Many times prostitutes operate from a hotel base, walking the streets nearby until the johns cruise by to talk, Berry said. If the two agree on terms, they'll typically ride back to the hotel together. Barry said the Oglethorpe Hotel and the Royal Inn on West Highland Avenue are two of the areas that have been covered.

Officers posing as either "hookers" or johns are monitored closely by the Drug Unit support team, Berry said, with safety always the first concern.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game," Berry said. "We can hear the conversations and we have our eyes on them as well. At no time does a female agent get inside a car."

Berry said every support team member listens for pre-established phrases spoken by the agents. A particular phrase could mean the subject pulled a gun, the whole thing is a "rip off," or it's time to move in.

To help prevent the prey from getting wise, Berry says the agent team will alternate their hunting grounds. They switch their unmarked cars, and change their movement patterns.

"Some people ask me "why don't you put a stop to all this,'" Berry said. "I tell them it's been around since Jesus walked the earth and it's not about to go away. All we can do is try to manage it."

According to Berry, plenty of "warnings" are given to drivers of the slow-cruising autos through the targeted areas. The operation team typically is able to find a bona fide reason to make a routine traffic stop.

"We tell them 'Hey, we know what you're doing here. We're just being straight up with you," Berry said.

To avoid the legal issue of entrapment, undercover agents must adhere to certain guidelines, some of which -- for security reasons -- Berry declined to reveal. Central though are the rules of never touching the suspected prostitute or making an offer for "services," Berry said. Once the target defines her offer, complete with price, it's time to move in, he said.