New York City police will significantly limit the seizure of condoms as evidence during prostitution arrests, Commissioner Bill Bratton announced in a May 12 release.
The former policy was criticized by advocacy groups and health officials for undermining the efforts to protect prostitutes and their clients from HIV and other STD transmission.
“A policy that actually inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and is dangerous,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in response to a reporter’s question about the change in NYPD practice. “I have absolute faith in Commissioner Bratton and his team, and they felt that this was not the right way to go, that the previous policy was not the right way to go, and that they could be effective in gathering evidence without it.”
Past police practice also caused concern for those walking around with condoms who are not prostitutes. Advocates said enforcement specifically targeted the transgender community as well as LGBT youth.
Several years ago, Johanna Vaquez, who is transgender, was stopped as she walked along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Despite pleading innocence, the possession of a condom landed her in jail for one year, she said.
The new policy will provide for the confiscation of condoms during arrest processing and then their return to the individuals once they are released from police custody. Condoms confiscated during arrests for promoting prostitution and sex trafficking will continue to be invoiced as evidence.
“This 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 his statement.
Although the new policy won praise from groups including the Gay Men's Health Crisis, it doesn’t go far enough for Andrea Ritchie, a coordinator at Streetwise and Safe, a New York City-based group that has long opposed the department's previous policy. Her group charged “it creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.”
"We will be monitoring the NYPD carefully to see how they implement this policy," Ritchie told Gay City News.