Assembly approves granting immunity to sex workers who aid police

On Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly approved a measure that gives immunity to sex workers who tell police when more serious crimes have occurred.

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When the ordinance was first introduced it drew support from advocates, as well as several women who had previously engaged in prostitution. Many testified they’d encountered heinous and violent crime, but were afraid of reporting it to law enforcement for fear of prosecution.

However critics said the proposal was vague, hard to enforce and targeted a problem Anchorage may or may not have. Even after revisions, the municipal prosecutor’s office remained firmly opposed.

But Assembly members like Eric Croft of West Anchorage felt the re-worked ordinance was narrow enough to potentially boost reporting to law enforcement without many negative impacts.

“And it’s not doing very much harm because, again, there aren’t that many prosecutions for this,” Croft said.

Under municipal statue, prostitution is a class B misdemeanor. The new measure specifies a person who witnesses or is victim to a some class A misdemeanors can receive immunity if he or she cooperates in reporting it to police. The move is aligned with a similar provision in SB91, last year’s state omnibus crime bill.

The ordinance passed 10 to 1, with Eagle River representative Amy Demboski opposed.

Elsewhere in the meeting, the Assembly voted to advance a complicated development project. The move opens the possibility of using tax abatement as a tool for converting the outdated Department of Health and Human Services downtown into senior housing, and building new residential units in a section of Midtown Anchorage off Tudor Road. The proposal from the mayor’s administration received some criticism for not working more closely with the school district, which uses a nearby property to operate its fleet
of buses.

The body also approved a parking proposal from East Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar. The measure establishes a grace-period for leaving cars parked downtown overnight on weekends up until 11am the next morning.