Nassau Count District Attorney Kathleen Rice announces the results of...

Nassau Count District Attorney Kathleen Rice announces the results of "Operation Flush the Johns" in Mineola. (June 3, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

In a month-long sting operation begun in April by the Nassau County Police Department and the district attorney’s office, 104 men were arrested for soliciting prostitutes.

Called “Operation Flush the Johns” (oh, to be a fly on the wall at the meetings where they argue over operation names), the plan involved creating online advertisements for escorts, getting men to agree to meet up at a hotel, videotaping them agreeing to pay for sex with undercover cops posing as prostitutes, then arresting them, charging them and, as of Monday around noon, publicizing their names and mugshots.

It should be noted, if only because it’s fascinating and confirms so many suspicions about the general moral superiority of women, that attempts were also made to lure female customers via Internet ads, but not one responded.

Incredulity and giggles aside, however, "Flush the Johns" raises some serious questions.

* Why was this suddenly such an important crime to focus on? According to Division of Criminal Justice Service statistics, a total of 39 people had been arrested on such charges in Nassau County … over the past decade. More than 100 in a month shows a pretty serious change in emphasis, and one that goes beyond this sting, and beyond prosecuting customers. In 2012, 26 cases involving prostitution charges were resolved in Nassau. This year there have already been 140 prostitution arrests.

* Is this the best use of policing resources? The answer could be “yes.” But in order for the answer to be “yes,” some very serious negative effects of prostitution in Nassau have to be shown, not just implied. No one wants prostitutes being mistreated, enslaved or endangered. If it's a big problem, and if this is the right way to attack it, we would like to see the evidence.

* Is the migration of prostitution-seeking from the public roads to the Internet a positive, rather than a negative? Prostitution, as old as society itself, won’t ever disappear. That being the case, would we rather have its negotiations soiling computer screens and smart phones or street corners?

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice has never shied away from the spotlight. In fact, she sometimes seems drawn to it like a moth to a porch lamp. But her ability to shine publicity on important issues has also done a lot of good -- her focus on attacking DWIs and their culprits being a prime example.

Now she’s undertaken another crusade that’s going to garner a ton of attention. Her challenge is to convince Nassau residents that these alleged johns deserve their shame, and prostitution deserves this level of focus and resources.

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