People buying and selling sex share the same pathways and parks frequented by Rapid City families.
The worst of the bartering for sex happens in the busy greenways wedged between Omaha and New York streets, along East Boulevard, or closer to downtown where the city’s homeless population tends to gather.
“Those are the areas that have the highest volume of activity,” police detective Sgt. Peter Ragnone said.
Those are also the areas targeted by Rapid City police stings designed to take the buyers off the street, thereby protecting desperate women willing to do anything for a few bucks.
The stings can net as many as five offenders or come up empty handed, but the goal is always the same -- reduce or eliminate the activity, while preserving some dignity for the women prostituting themselves, police Chief Steve Allender said.
“In reality they’re breaking the law, however, arresting them is not going to have as good of a chance of curbing this behavior as arresting the people using them,” Allender said.
The greater good is better served by holding the men buying sex accountable for taking advantage of homeless women, he said.
The buying and selling of sexual favors is almost a daily activity, Ragnone said.
And, it’s not something that happens in the shadows and after dark.
“We’re targeting the males who are targeting our female, mostly homeless, populations,” Ragnone said.
“Some of these sexual acts are occurring in vehicles, in the park, in daytime hours when families and citizens are out in the bike path and parks,” police Capt. Deb Cady said. “I don’t think citizens should have to tolerate that.”
Men trying to buy sex have been known to approach women taking a walk through the park, Cady said.
The majority of the men arrested for soliciting sex during a sting are white males averaging 60 years old. But, their ages vary from 17 to 84 years old.
Infirmity doesn’t exclude a potential buyer from being charged with the Class 1 misdemeanor of hiring for sexual activity and conviction can result in a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Last March, police arrested Larry Langager, 70, of Rapid City for allegedly negotiating with a civilian informant. Langager, who is scheduled to go on trial Thursday, used a three-wheeled electric scooter to attend a court hearing Monday.
“Some of the women that they are soliciting have alcohol addiction issues and are using that money to support their alcohol addiction,” Cady said. “I view those women as potentially victims willing to do about anything to get money to continue drinking.”
“From our experience, these are people who are desperate for money,” Ragnone said. “They are most likely prostituting themselves to earn money for whatever their needs are: alcohol, drugs, food or rent. They’re in desperate situations.”
Using a paid civilian informant and audio and video equipment, police conduct surveillance operations that can net them as many as five potential customers in one operation.
These are resource intensive operations that tie up people and equipment for four- or five-hour stretches, Ragnone said.
Suspects are either arrested on the spot or interviewed and the information handed on to the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office for consideration by a grand jury.
The law doesn’t discriminate because of age or degree of crime, Roetzel said.
“We can’t pick and choose which crimes we will prosecute,” Roetzel said. “The community makes it well known that it doesn’t like prostitution.”
Ragnone does not have accurate figures on how many arrests and prosecutions resulted from surveillance operations the past two years, but he does know that the number of arrests went down this year.
“We’re doing this out of concern for the welfare of our people in desperate situations, not to boost the number of misdemeanor arrests, Ragnone said. “The fewer (arrests) we make, the more successful we are.”