San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) announced today that they would no longer be using condoms as evidence in suspected sex worker cases on a trial basis for the next six months. The City and all the interested and oversight departments-DA, SFPD, the Mayor’s office, among others-would review the data gathered and make a decision to keep the policy intact. This is a big win for AIDS activists who’ve been working tirelessly to stop this violation of City directives and citizen’s rights. Before today’s announcement San Francisco police officers had been using condoms as evidence of sex work or suspected sex work specifically targeted within the LGBT community in The Castro and beyond.
In a 112 page report released in July 2012, Human Rights Watch detailed interviews with more than 300 sex workers and transgendered people-many from San Francisco-as well as New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. were those surveyed claimed that officers regularly harass, threaten and arrest them for carrying condoms, which police allegedly use as evidence of prostitution. In San Francisco specifically the police could stop any citizen and, if in possession of just three condoms, could and had held individuals for ‘suspicion of prostitution.’ These kind of police practices conflicts radically with current City policy. AIDS and human rights activists further claim this practice contributes to the rise of HIV transmissions and other sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally activists have pointed out that this is a vast waste of SFPD time, staffing, fiscal resources and jail space when holding those for up to 72 hours without charging. That money and time could be better spent addressing a myriad of other ills plaguing The Castro and the City as a whole.
The newly reformed AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power of San Francisco (ACT UP/SF), St. James Infirmary, and other AIDS support/activist groups within the City cheered this decision on the part of the SFPD as a big win for the community at large but noted that now comes the hardest part-keeping an eye on the SFPD to make sure these promises and new edicts are adhered to by the rank and file officers in the field, encouraged by commanding officers and monitored/enforced by the District Attorneys office. Time will tell.