OGDEN — The car slowed as it drove past the woman meandering along Adams Avenue. It made a U-turn and then pulled over to the curb.

The woman walked up to the passenger window, leaning over to talk.

"Hey, how's it going?"

"You working?" he asks.

"I'm workin'. What're you lookin' for?"

"How much?"

"Tell me what you want, and I'll tell you how much," she said, straight to the point. "What do you want for 20 bucks?"

"$20? Uh, everything."

"You want everything? You want sex?"

"Yeah."

"All right, meet me around the corner. Just pick me up right around the corner."

The man drove around the corner, and an Ogden police car came up on him, lights flashing. The man was stopped on Washington Boulevard and arrested on a charge of soliciting sex.

Police here are trying to get tough on prostitution, which has received renewed public scrutiny after the July 13 killings of two women who worked the streets. Ogden police's metro gang unit, which doubles as its vice squad, allowed a Deseret News reporter and photographer to accompany them on two nights of a prostitution bust to see the issues they face.

Everywhere

The women wander down the same streets, stand on a corner, or sit for hours on a porch, doing nothing in particular. Their customers drive by, slowly, pulling over and engaging in nervous conversations that lead to "business deals."

Sexual solicitation is a class B misdemeanor, unless there are prior arrests. Sometimes police arrest the same woman again and again. If that happens, she goes to jail.

Prostitution is a problem in every big city and even in the suburbs, thanks to the Internet.

"The girls on the street go for $20. On the Internet, it's $300 to get her to the motel room," said Lt. Loring Draper, who is over the squad.

Knowing it's illegal, both prostitutes and johns are wary of each other.

"Are you police?" a woman asks a man working undercover, demanding that he expose himself. "That's the only way I'm going to get in the car."

"I don't show without the go," the decoy replies. Listening to the conversation in an unmarked car parked nearby, detectives Jeremy Nelson and Jon Hill snicker at the remark.

"That's the only way I get in the car," she said. "That's how I know you're not a cop."

The woman finally gets in the car, but she's still paranoid. Inside their car, Nelson and Hill are recording the conversation. The woman eventually leaves, with no deal made.

Draper disputes claims that prostitution is a victimless crime.

"You've got all these issues," he said. "The girls get robbed, they get raped, they get beat up all the time. They get sexually transmitted diseases. They get killed. The johns get robbed, they get beat up, STDs, it destroys family lives."

Along Jefferson Avenue, charming historic homes give way to drugs and prostitution on the streets. Ogden police have recently gotten tough in this downtown residential area, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the city's crime. A special crime unit has made the streets quieter, but things are still busy.

"Can you hook me up?" detective Jamie Garcia shouts to a woman as he drives along Jefferson.

The woman tells him she's not a prostitute.

Decoys

Police used both decoy prostitutes and johns in this sting.

Garcia drove the bugged minivan down the streets, looking like a man out for a good time. He found it with a woman who went by "Angel," who agreed to perform a sex act for $20. She got in the van and they drove off.

At 29th and Monroe, he was pulled over for failure to signal. "Angel" was cited.

"It's hard," said the woman, whose real name is Tiffany.

As she sat in a patrol car waiting to be handed a sexual-solicitation citation, she said it was the first time she'd ever prostituted herself.

"Desperate for money to pay my rent, pay some bills off," Tiffany said.

She said she had been busted with meth and was released from jail July 18 but that she's clean now and she won't be back on the streets.

"I hope not, because I'm gettin' a job tomorrow. I won't have to worry about money or anything anymore," she said.

Officer Ken Hammond handed her the citation and Tiffany slammed the door on the patrol car, lumbering down Monroe Boulevard. A couple of women standing across the street glared at her.

Garcia drove off, looking for more.

"It's a fun game to play, unfortunately," he said.

Patrol officer Heather Harris hung out near Adams and Doxey Street, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Cars drive by again and again, slowing down to check her out.

"I assume they're trying to work up the courage," she said.

A man in a blue Jeep Liberty pulls up and starts chatting her up. She looks familiar, like someone he used to know. She gives the name "Erica."

He's obviously nervous, making awkward small-talk.

"I don't know how things work up here in Ogden," he rambles. "I mean, it's not against the law to stop and talk to somebody. Do you know a girl named, uh, gosh what's her name? She had blonde hair and a tattoo ... "

He's running errands, on his way to the grocery store. He asks her to get in the car, she won't. He asks for her phone number, she declines. Each time, she presses if he wants anything — careful to make sure he makes the offer.

"I don't know, I guess I'm just too paranoid," he sputters.

Yet he stays and talks. He asks if she wants to go to a show. He asks her to lift up her shirt. She declines without an offer of cash.

Eventually, the conversation turns downright bizarre.

"Are you a good Christian?" he asks.

"I don't believe in anything, actually," she replies.

"You don't? You should! I'm serious. You've got to have something! What do you fall back on if you don't believe in anything?"

Across the street, detectives Clint Christensen and Jake Sube are listening in.

"Oh my God," Sube says, rolling his eyes.

Just as rapidly, the john switches subjects.

"You don't know where I can find a nice girlfriend?" he asks.

"Nope, I can only show you a good time," she flirts.

The man eventually leaves after making an offer to "rehabilitate" her, but no deal is made. A few minutes later, a man in a new Toyota Camry pulls up to Harris and makes a deal.

"So what kind of friend do you want tonight?" she asks him.

Practically whispering, the man asks for "something quick." A few minutes later, he sits red-faced with a sexual-solicitation citation.

Detective Colette Allred made a deal with a man in a BMW outside a credit union on Adams Avenue. After being pulled over by a marked police car, the man was on a cell phone. A few minutes later, his wife was crying as she watched him being arrested. Inside the back of the car were pornographic DVDs, rope, gloves and zucchini.

"She wasn't happy," Sube said.

The shootings

On the minds of the police and the prostitutes they arrest are the deaths of Rosanna Cruz and Teresa Tingey.

One after another, the women were shot to death after picking up a man on Adams Avenue on July 13. Jacob Daniel Ethridge, 31, is charged with first-degree felony murder in the slayings. He is currently undergoing a mental evaluation.

"It brought some more attention to the prostitutes up here in Ogden, but it didn't diminish them from working," said Sgt. Kevin Cottrell.

The slayings scared the other prostitutes off the streets for a few days, police said, but they came back.

"They've got to get out there to earn the money to support their drug habits," Cottrell said. "They can't not work."

The killings were brought up by both prostitutes and johns throughout the night.

"I am not a prostitute!" shrieked a woman named Shauna who was cited in the undercover sting. Despite being caught on tape, she insisted that she was only getting a ride home.

"I'm just scared to walk since those ladies got murdered," she sobbed.

Police said drugs are a major reason why many women sell themselves. One woman refused to do anything unless she could have money first to go buy drugs.

During one bust, a woman named Susan was pulled aside and grilled by detective Jon Hill about what she had on her.

"I have a pipe," she fesses up on Washington Boulevard.

"Is that it?" he asks. "Susan, c'mon now."

"I'm not lying!"

Eventually, Susan was booked into jail on a prostitution charge.

Garcia, whose day job is a school resource officer, feels sympathy for the women who turn to prostitution.

"I think most of them are victims of circumstance," he said. "But then there's the percentage of them that simply choose to live that lifestyle, and it is against the law."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com