BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It was with great publicity in October 2013 that Mayor Byron Brown announced with Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda a website intended to shame people out of paying for prostitutes.
The website included the names and photographs of 59 men known as “Johns” – men police say they arrested on a charge of patronizing a prostitute.
The move was applauded by many people wanting to cut down on prostitution in Buffalo.
But just two months later, in December, the website came down, with nothing put in its place. Commissioner Derenda says they never intended to keep the photos up forever.
“The pictures were taken off after the majority of these offenders receive ACDs, which stands for adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. After six months, the charges are dropped, the records are sealed. We legally have to remove those pictures,” Derenda explained.
Prominent Buffalo defense attorney Paul Cambria was a strong critic of the website when it was announced. He has studied so-called “John websites,” and he argues websites like this one are often politically-motivated.
“When you see these websites come up, they’re usually a political vehicle for someone running for re-election,” Cambria said.
When asked how he responds to those claims, Derenda said, “I would say we don’t do our police operations based on elections.”
When asked if any more names and pictures will be added to the site, Derenda said, “Yes, they will. We will be doing another operation. After the arrests, we will put them up as a group. They will probably remain up there for about six months, then be removed again.”
Cambria argues the website hurts innocent families more than the suspect himself.
“You can imagine having a teenage son or daughter in high school and friends say, ‘Hey, I saw your dad,'” Cambria said.
Derenda acknowledged, “We got many phone calls from attorneys and family members asking us to take down the photos. But it is going to be our policy to put them up after they’re arrested.”
For many of the suspects, being posted on the website is a much bigger punishment than they ever received in court.
News 4’s Lou Raguse checked the cases of all 59 men pictured on the website. Only 20 percent of them pleaded guilty. The vast majority – 70 percent – received an ACD. That means the charge was dismissed. And with good behavior, it will be like they were never charged in the first place.
“An ACD would result in a dismissal and a sealing of their record,” Cambria said.
Other police departments say, when consistently updated, sites like these are effective in preventing crime. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police have maintained a site since 2011. They post photos of suspects in prostitution-related arrests as soon as they happen, and take the photos down after 60 days. They say it works.
“We have noticed there has been a decrease in the number of prostitutes out on the street,” Lt. Richard Kivett said.
And Indianapolis Police say the consistently-updated site is well-received by the public, because they can see the direct results after they report these crimes to police.
But how does a site that’s been empty for two months serve as a deterrent?
“It’s effective, when you arrest these suspects, you put their picture on, I’m sure it has a dramatic effect,” Derenda said. “We’ve seen a big decrease in citizen complaints. We see a lot less prostitution out on the streets. We believe it has had an effect. We’ll know when the weather warms up and we’ll be out there again.”
After News 4 talked with Buffalo Police, they updated the website to say it will be updated with current information in the near future. That’s something the commissioner said they should have done in the first place.
Derenda said even though the suspects will be cycled in and out of the website, the site itself is something the department will use permanently.