Prostitution suspects in New York City released from custody will get back their unused condoms -- no longer seized as evidence -- in a policy shift designed to address health concerns of those police Commissioner William J. Bratton said are most at risk -- sex workers.
Under a new NYPD policy announced Monday, condoms taken from suspected prostitutes will be secured for safe keeping along with their other personal property and returned once the person is released from police custody. Condoms confiscated in more serious cases of sex trafficking or promoting prostitution will continue to be kept as evidence, officials said.
The NYPD policy change "is a reasonable approach to targeting the most at-risk community as it relates to safer sex practices and continuing to build strong cases against the vast criminal enterprise associated with prostitution," Bratton said in a statement.
At an unrelated news conference Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the policy.
"I think it's the right thing to do, and I applaud the NYPD," de Blasio said. "A policy that actually inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake, and it is dangerous. And there's a number of ways to go about putting together evidence."
Even before the AIDS/HIV crisis erupted in the early 1980s, condoms were seen by health experts as a major way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. After AIDS hit both the heterosexual and homosexual communities, experts said, condoms were an important part of the initiative to prevent the spread of the virus, particularly for those who had multiple sex partners.
Sex worker advocates over the years had encouraged prostitutes to use condoms and municipalities have offered free condoms.
Access to Condom Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations involved with helping sex workers, in a statement, applauded the new policy as "a welcome and important step in the direction of protecting the public health and reproductive rights of New Yorkers."
But the group said the changes don't go far enough and have loopholes, which still allow sex workers and human trafficking victims to lose their condoms as evidence in serious criminal cases.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., in a statement also commended the NYPD policy move and said serious sex trafficking cases don't have to rely on the use of condoms as evidence.