Prostitutes Flood Vallejo After City Slashes Police
By Alison Vekshin - Aug 22, 2011
When Ruth Rooney moved in 2005 to a two-bedroom house in Vallejo, California, near Napa Valley’s famed wineries, the historic St. Vincent’s Hill neighborhood attracted young professionals and there were few vacancies.
Things began to change in 2008 after Vallejo, a city of about 116,000 that had lost its biggest employer, the U.S. Navy’s Mare Island shipyard, filed for bankruptcy, said Rooney, a 54-year-old marketing consultant.
“I see prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers out my front window,” Rooney said in a telephone interview Aug. 5. “There’s two on the corner right now.” Her property value has dropped 70 percent in six years, she said.
Vallejo’s experience comes as Central Falls, Rhode Island, proposes $5.6 million in budget cuts after seeking Chapter 9 protection this month and Jefferson County, Alabama, negotiates with creditors to avoid what would be the biggest government filing in U.S. history. There have been five municipal bankruptcies this year, compared with six in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Prostitution became a growth industry in Vallejo as the San Francisco Bay city slashed its payroll, cutting police by a third, to 90 from 134. The largest municipal bankruptcy in California since Orange County in 1994 has forced law enforcement to focus on violent crime at the cost of so-called “quality-of-life” issues, residents and officials said.
‘Half the People’
“When you have half the number of people, you can only do half the amount of work,” Robert Nichelini, Vallejo’s police chief, said in an Aug. 15 telephone interview. “Where it’s taken a toll is the lower-priority crimes, which have had to take a back seat.”
Vallejo has 302 neighborhood-watch associations with 2,552 members, up from 10 groups with 60 people in 2009, said Tony Pearsall, executive director of the Fighting Back Partnership, a Vallejo-based nonprofit social-services group.
“They’re doing crime prevention themselves because there is no crime-prevention unit in the police department anymore,” Pearsall, a retired Vallejo police captain, said by telephone.
Another group, the Central Core Restoration Corp., hired two armed security guards beginning in 2008 to patrol Georgia Street, the city’s commercial center, on bicycles during business hours.
“They help us with the panhandlers, loitering and assist us in calling the police if we have more serious infractions,” Janet Sylvain, the group’s president, said in an Aug. 11 interview at her upholstery shop, Pieced on Earth.