NEW PORT RICHEY — New Port Richey City Council members have approved an ordinance providing stronger penalties for solicitation for prostitution.
Under the new rules, a first offense under the prostitution ordinance could result in up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Repeat offenses could result in six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
Under the ordinance, police can arrest a repeat offender who attempts to solicit for prostitution by stopping a vehicle or leaves with the motorist.
City police officials last month said the additional regulations would help officers combat problems with prostitution.
Along with the prostitution ordinance, the city council took final action on a chronic nuisance ordinance last week by adopting the same fines as state statute. A few months ago, the city began its special magistrate system to hear these types of cases.
For years, law enforcement in West Pasco has been trying to crack down on prostitution, especially along U.S. 19 in the New Port Richey-Port Richey area. The undercover enforcement efforts have targeted the prostitutes and their would-be customers.
Past regulations often led to a “revolving door,” Councilman Jeff Starkey has said. Starkey has called the proposed ordinance a “great step.”
Since April, crime issues have been a primary focus for many New Port Richey leaders.
“The biggest complaint I get is crime in the city,” Mayor Bob Consalvo has said.
The mayor estimated that about half of the phone calls, emails and other correspondence that he receives come from residents concerned about crime.
“They’re really frightened” to live in or visit some sections of the city, Consalvo said.
Too many places in the city have become hangouts for prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals, Starkey said during an April city council meeting. He said that could stunt efforts to redevelop New Port Richey by attracting more residents and businesses.
The crime issue took on even greater urgency in September when more than a dozen residents demanded changes to “take back the city.”