It’s noon at Richmond’s Regatta Boulevard police station. A few police officers are sitting in front of their computers working. Amit Nath, one of the city’s 187 officers, interrogates a 15-year-old girl who was picked up for prostitution on 23rd Street.
In a juvenile processing room Nath, 31, sits in front of her. The girl looks down as the officer asks her questions. At times she gets emotional and doesn’t answer them.
When Nath asks her whether she has sex with people for money, she says she doesn’t. She tells him she goes on dates with guys and robs them. Nath pulls out a pack of condoms from her purse. Showing it to her, he asks, “Why do you have condoms?” She doesn’t answer.
He keeps questioning, insisting on asking her how many guys she’s had sex with. After a while, the girl admits to having had sex with men recently and making $200 to $300.
After talking to her for one hour, Nath finds out that the girl is from Florida and is living with a foster family in Sacramento.
She tells him that she doesn’t want this lifestyle and wants to go to school.
The girl is one of many high school-age students Nath sees getting into prostitution in Richmond.
“Two people take her to Richmond, San Jose and Oakland,” he says. “They follow her wherever she goes. We have recovered condoms and a piece of paper with a telephone number, which we are going to use as evidence.”
Nath books her on charges of loitering with intent to commit prostitution and leads her to a small room where staff from Community Violence Solutions (CVS), an advocacy group, will offer counseling.
“Every time a minor is brought in, so is CVS,” he says.
Cynthia Peterson, director of CVS, says that many of the girls she sees coming in for counseling are high school students.
“The youngest we’ve seen is 12 years old, with the average age being 18 years. The problem is serious in Contra Costa County,” Peterson says.
CVS doesn’t like to use the term “prostitutes.” Counselors treat the girls as victims of sexual exploitation. In addition to offering in-person counseling, the group runs a 24-hour crisis line. It also provides clothing and housing to support the victims.
“They are not able to get away from exploitation. Some of them are not even aware that they are being exploited. Human trafficking is happening in our streets,” she says. “There are many more on the streets who are not seeking our counseling.”
Although counseling doesn’t always solve a girl’s situation, it does help, she says.
“They are becoming self-sufficient and are not being re-arrested by the police,” Peterson says of the girls she’s seen. “They have gone to schools, graduated and got jobs. There has been a shift in their lives.”
Nath has made hundreds of arrests since he became a police officer in 2010.
“I have to be alert and attend to calls and crime scenes,” he says, while driving through Richmond. “I have to be focused and be aware of surroundings. Anything can happen at any time.”
In the last three and a half years, Nath says he’s seen a change in the nature of violent crimes in Richmond.
“The violent crime rate has gone down, but there is an upswing in burglary and thefts due to the economic climate and unemployment rate,” he says.
At 2 p.m., he takes a break. He started his workday at 10 a.m. and probably won’t be done until 10 this evening. He grabs a sandwich he brought from home and quickly eats lunch while standing next to his car.
Despite the long hours, Nath says he loves his job. “There is a lot to learn.”
After lunch, he heads into a conference room inside the police department to address school resource officers on how to control prostitution near schools.
“Some pimps are recruiting young girls from schools, and they in turn are recruiting other girls. We are training our school resource officers to be alert and identify those who are doing the crime,” he says.
He describes what school officers should look for. Sometimes, they’ll see someone driving by and trying to talk to various students, he says.
“You need to look for signs and symptoms before making an arrest,” he says.
Nath asks officers to be alert and hands them a piece of paper with information on what steps need to be taken while making an arrest related to prostitution.
The paper includes questions such as how long and how many dates they’ve had, how much they charge and for what, if they have been convicted or arrested and whether they’re working with other girls. It also lists items officers should look for such as condoms, phones, knives or weapons and hotel card keys.
In June, the police carried out 15 operations focused on prostitution in Richmond.
“In just five days 37 persons were arrested, including 32 girls and five pimps. The girls who are involved come from Richmond as well as from other parts of the California,” he says.
At around 4 p.m., Nath drives to the John A. Davis Juvenile Hall in Martinez, 15 miles from the Richmond police department, to bring the girl arrested earlier that day to the detention facility.
She will stay here until her family comes to pick her up. The girl is handcuffed and is seated in the backseat. She mostly remains quiet during the drive.
He goes to the juvenile center whenever a young girl is arrested. “It is done for the safety and security of the girl.”
Nath gets back into his car and drives to 23rd Street in Richmond, an area known for prostitution.
He stops at a parking lot and points out a spot where large numbers of condoms were discovered recently. “Residents don’t want to see condoms in the street,” he says. “They are fed up with it.”
According to Richmond police, 97 calls were made by residents last month, mostly coming from Ohio Avenue and 23rd street complaining about pimps and prostitutes and used condoms found at parking lots and near schools. In May, the police received approximately the same number of calls.
A car without a license plate drives by and Nath pulls the driver over. He asks a man and a woman inside for identification. They refuse. The man sitting behind the wheel provides false information. He is arrested and the car is searched. Nath finds a handgun and calls for backup.
Additional officers arrive and block the street while the search continues.
Nath arrests both suspects for firearm possession.
“We will do DNA tests to find out who is using this gun,” he says. “Both of them say they don’t know. We will be questioning them further.”
After the arrest, Nath gets back into his car to keep patrolling the area. He still has a few hours to go until his workday is over.