Prostitution and gang activity are more than just a nuisance in Prince George's County, though a new County Council proposal would define them as such for the sake of policing.
In 1993, the county instituted a public nuisance law to deal with the sale and use of illegal drugs on commercial property. A new bill, introduced by seven of nine council members, would add prostitution, human trafficking and criminal gang activity to that designation and extend the law to residences.
"We still have issues with drug houses, prostitution is still going on in our hotels, there's criminal gang activity here and there, especially in residential communities," said Mel Franklin, D-Upper Marlboro, a co-sponsor. "We want to give our police all the tools they need to provide a truly safe environment for our residents."
The proposal would give landlords and hotel owners more responsibility when it comes to dealing with the activity of their tenants. Owners would need to alert and work with the county if they suspect prostitution, human trafficking or gang-related crimes are occurring on their property, and they would be on the hook if they turn a blind eye.
In August, more than 30 people were arrested in a prostitution sting across five College Park hotels.
"If your hotel has a significant prostitution problem, or if you rent property to someone and they are actively engaging in criminal gang activity, you have to use your authority to prevent the renter from engaging in that activity," Franklin said. "If not, you could lose the ability to manage or own that property. It could definitely get very serious."
While such crimes are often noticeable to residents, they can be hard for police to enforce due to the high bar of evidence necessary for arrest, according to Urban Institute senior fellow John Roman.
"It's easy for people to see it and recognize it for what it is and difficult for the police to intervene," Roman said. "The rules only allow them to in clear-cut cases."