SALINAS, Calif.- Selling sex, it's a lucrative business Salinas isn't welcoming. Legitimate businesses said they're losing help from police officers once dedicated to keeping prostitutes away because of funding. It's new information on a story we've been following for weeks, as Salinas struggles to crackdown on prostitution. We went to talk to business owners who said losing police resources is hurting their bottom line.
"Prostitution happens to be one of those elements of crime that we see pop up and it has been a lot more visible during the past year," said Salinas United Business Association executive director Jose Martinez-Saldana.
That's a statement Central Coast News has heard before. So we went to find out what's changed. Last month, we went with undercover officers during a sting operation in one of the known problem areas near Kern Street. That night, two prostitutes were arrested and nine others were cited. Two weeks after the bust, businesses told us the problem went away for about a week, but came right back.
The Salinas United Business Association, also known as SUBA, works to help businesses right in the middle of the problem on the east side of town.
"There was two officers that were assigned to patrol the area and really served as a liaison between the businesses and some times the crime that would surface," Martinez-Saldana said.
But the police department lost federal funding to keep that program going about a year ago. Martinez-Saldana said now businesses are worse off.
"So its been the better part of a year where we have not had that support anymore. What we have seen is an increase in crime," Martinez-Saldana said.
But not every business has noticed a big increase in activity. Salinas Pawn manager Jose Espinoza said prostitutes just keep to themselves.
"Usually while they walk around here, they usually stay out on the street," said Espinoza.
But SUBA said that image is what they worry about. Business owners said you won't usually find evidence of prostitution out in front of the business. But when we walked around the back of the building, it only took about a minute to find a condom wrapper right on the other side of a fence.
SUBA said this week it started paying for private security to pick up the slack over the next two months for a few thousand dollars. Some businesses said the extra security is worth it, when signs in their windows aren't enough to keep the sex trade at bay.
Salinas Police haven't been able to do another sting operation since the one in November, but plan to do them more often.