West Windsor Police Chief Joe Pica and Lieutenant Brian Melnick spoke before township council and 40 residents at the Monday, June 11, Council meeting, outlining an ordinance designed to put an end to the pattern of massage parlor prostitution in the past decade. Council will hear the ordinance — and vote on it — on Monday, June 25. With overwhelming support from police and community leaders, it appears likely that Council will approve the ordinance.
Council Vice President Linda Geevers thanked the police for taking a proactive approach with the new ordinance, saying the town’s prostitution problem “must be stamped out.”
“We need to eliminate this kind of activity from our community; it just can’t continue. When most people think of redevelopment and cleaning up Route 571 and the area around the train station, they think of Windsor Plaza or the new Rite Aid. This is a whole other kind of cleanup that we need to have,” Geevers said.
Over the years many residents’ complaints (and anonymous tips) about potential illegal activity at massage parlors came directly to Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, who says regulation was due for a long time.
“This issue has been going on for decades, long before I took over as mayor. Once I got into office I really wanted to make sure we could crack down on these crimes,” Hsueh said.
Chief Pica said over the past several years West Windsor has been inundated with new massage parlor businesses. “We felt the need to regulate the industry somewhat in our town because of the problems we’ve had in the past. This ordinance will cover all types of massage and therapy locations,” Pica said.
The ordinance, modeled after similar regulations in place in East Brunswick, Morristown, and Woodbridge, would mandate all businesses to have a person with proper ID who can be held accountable for the institution — whether the business owner or a manager — as well as for all employees to be licensed massage therapists. Police believe this will stop the opportunities for massage parlors to serve as a home base for illegal immigrants who might also be part of human trafficking operations. Melnick and Pica said that many times the women involved in massage parlor prostitution arrests are unpaid illegal immigrants from Asian countries, many of whom are violently forced into participating in prostitution.
Councilman George Borek commented on the problems law enforcement has faced of making prostitution arrests at massage parlors only to see the same places and individuals in business again a few days later, even after items were confiscated from the establishments.
“Certainly your work here seems to be a more positive way of dealing with this issue. It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Borek said.
Police worked with Karen Cayci of the township’s law firm, Herbert, Van Ness, Cayci & Goodell, to develop the ordinance. Melnick was hands-on in drafting the ordinance, and in the course of his research and data collection he met with several licensed, legitimate massage therapy business owners and employees. On June 11 he told Council police understand that “not all massage therapy business has illegal activity going on.”
“The legitimate massage business owners are behind [the ordinance] 100 percent. Every time they open a newspaper and there’s a report about a prostitution arrest at a massage business, it gives them a black eye. There is legitimate business, legitimate profession, and a good health-promoting reason to go for massage therapy,” Melnick said.
Melnick also told the audience that the same problems with prostitution that the township faced 10 years ago, when he started working in the detective bureau in West Windsor, had prevailed until this spring when police raided a house at 148 Princeton-Hightstown Road and arrested four women (WW-P News, March 2).
The suburban house is walking distance from High School South, and like in many of the cases Melnick said police initially investigated it because of neighbors’ complaints about a constant flow of cars (almost all male visitors) plus late evening hours. He said the massage businesses have traditionally attracted individuals from other areas to West Windsor, often because the proximity to highways and the train station was advertised in newspapers.
That aspect has contributed to the potential for violent crimes. Melnick spoke about two crimes in 2008 where money was stolen from the massage parlors, which usually operated on an all-cash basis, after male customers beat the prostitute attending them and fled.
In 2006, Melnick said, a burglar broke into 55 Princeton-Hightstown Road at 2:18 a.m. and attacked a prostitute who was sleeping at the massage parlor’s location. After the attack the woman ran down Route 571 with her clothes torn and multiple injuries, where police spotted her. Melnick says in that case and others, the female victims are hesitant to report crimes to police because they are illegal immigrants, they are involved in prostitution, and they do not speak English. Therefore, crimes can occur in West Windsor without police finding out.
Besides the potential for increased crime in the community, Melnick also deemed the prostitution crisis a serious “quality of life issue.”
“We’ve had complaints from spouses whose husbands have had to go for sex addiction counseling. Others have complained that a sexually transmitted disease was brought back home from someone who visited a massage parlor. Residents have helped by telling us the exact locations of the massage parlors where prostitution was occurring,” he said.
With support from council, Mayor Hsueh and the West Windsor Police Department hope to receive fewer anonymous tips due to a decrease in criminal activity.