A purely cosmetic measure

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 20, 2000

As expected, the Las Vegas City Council voted November 15 to expand the "order-out" zone -- or is it now "zones" -- in which police and the courts are authorized to play "Let's make a deal" with our local prostitutes and petty drug dealers, setting them loose to ply their trades, providing they promise to take their business elsewhere, not returning to the block where they were arrested for the next year or so.

On the one hand, the policy would seem a common-sense and street-wise approach to a problem which everyone realizes will not go away.

That is to say, prostitution and drug peddlers will always be with us. So rather than seeking to imprison each new set of entrepreneurs that springs up to service this market -- clogging the courts and jails -- why not simply shuffle such commerce to areas where the practitioners are less likely to frighten the tourists and small children?

Politicians thus get around their political reluctance to simply legalize and modestly regulate such activities. The idea isn't even really new -- when Las Vegas was founded, a small area of the downtown was designated for barrooms and bordellos, with the idea of keeping such activities out of the suburban neighborhoods of the more upright citizens.

Problem is, the current solution is the dead opposite of that common-sense approach of a century ago. Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic argues that once the "order-out" zone is expanded to include all the areas where such activities now occur, they will simply disappear.

The new areas added on November 15 "are the last places where land of opportunities still exist for prostitutes," Mr. Jerbic boldly proclaimed. Oh, right. And if we can just cut off the supplies of heroin from Southeast Asia and cocaine from Bolivia, eager entrepreneurs will never start growing and importing the stuff from Mexico and Colombia, respectively.

ProstitutionMr. Jerbic is wrong, and history proves it. After the original "order-out" zone was created in 1996, business owners from the immediately surrounding areas to which the street crime had been pushed formed a committee to demand the first expansion of the zone. Since then, the city has found it necessary to expand the zone again every two years like clockwork, as the criminals simply migrate to areas of lower enforcement (precisely as the police are urging them to do), carrying with them the unwelcome blight which their illegal activities bring with them. (Though interestingly, this has never been a problem in the neighborhoods surrounding legal casinos or legal houses of prostitution, in the rest of Nevada.)

The eventual solution which the leaders in the city (and Clark County, which has echoed the policy) are backing into -- even if they don't realize or acknowledge it -- might as well be called an "order-in" zone. That is to say, some day they will have "ordered out" such activities from all but some small remaining area, which will then become by default the area where such "technically illegal" activities are now tolerated -- just as they're tolerated in the "red light districts" of Amsterdam and many other foreign cities, even while remaining technically illegal.

The question is: Where should that area be? The suburban centers of Summerlin and Green Valley?

"Order-out" zones avoid dealing with underlying issues which these politicians fear to confront. What they are saying, by implication, is that the whores and drug dealers should go back to the predominantly black neighborhood of the West Side, "where they belong." (Else, why does the "order-out" zone deliberately omit the parts of town west of I-15?)

These are purely cosmetic measures -- probably unconstitutional to boot -- which will only end up demonstrating the ironclad Law of Unintended Consequences, as they continually shift the problem to new areas, where new groups of citizens will then arise in righteous indignation ... like a bad housekeeper who just keeps sweeping the dirt under some new and different rug.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (subscribe by calling Norbert at 612-895-8757.) His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.

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