Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

SF police not to use condoms as evidence of prostitution, chief says

Police Chief Greg Suhr(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Police Chief Greg Suhr(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has told his staff that condoms are no longer to be confiscated, photographed, or documented in any way as evidence of prostitution.

Suhr’s order, which came in a department-wide bulletin dated April 16, follows District Attorney Goerge Gascón recently saying that prosecutors would not use condoms as evidence in prostitution-related cases anymore.

A temporary ban on using condoms as evidence of prostitution had already been in place since October. Suhr said months ago that he wanted the ban to be permanent.

“I’m hopeful that this ends up being a permanent accord,” he said in a January interview. “If it has even one less person get any form of STD, it’s a good policy.”

Public Defender Jeff Adachi also said at the time that he wanted the prohibition to be made kept in place.

But Gascón had extended the trial period so that his office would have more time to examine the proposal, saying that he needed to balance health and safety issues.

In a March 30 letter to Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks, he said that he had finally agreed with Adachi to “eliminate any discussion concerning the presence or absence of condoms as evidence in convicting or acquitting an individual of a prostitution-related crime.”

Sex worker advocates, public health officials, and others have expressed concerns that using condoms as evidence of prostitution discourages people from carrying them, thereby putting them at greater risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

In an April 16 email to other city officials that she shared with the Bay Area Reporter, Sparks discussed meeting “to determine the best, and most effective way, to make sure the community is aware of this policy and to encourage them to carry and use condoms for their own protection.”

Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said in a statement today (Wednesday, April 17) that her staff “has been working closely with the district attorney’s office to prohibit using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. Our district attorney kept his commitment ending this practice. In doing so, this move will help individuals continue to protect themselves through the responsible use of condoms.”

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the DA, has said use of condoms as evidence of prostitution is rare.

In his bulletin, Suhr said police may continue to gather documentation of materials other than condoms “when establishing probable cause for ‘Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution,'” Penal Code Section 653.22.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, April 17, 2013 @ 3:42 pm PST
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