By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"Bavonese's got me at least 150 of my arrests," Roxanne estimates with the aplomb of a CPA tallying a quarterly report. He says that's an exaggeration; for one thing, he doesn't always arrest the girls he encounters. (Like most people who work with prostitutes in one capacity or another -- including the prostitutes themselves -- he generally refers to them as girls, regardless of their age.) Bavonese's preferred method is to make himself such a nuisance that most eventually give up and go someplace else, at least during his shift. "That's all I can ask them to do -- change venue. I know I'm never going to get rid of prostitution," the 35-year-old patrolman explains in rapid speech that still carries a slight accent from his native New Jersey. As he crushes out one of the half-consumed Marlboros he chain-smokes, his pale eyes look strained but watchful behind wire-rimmed glasses. He smoothes a conservative reddish-brown moustache and takes a last sip of Dunkin' Donuts coffee.
"Charity! Come over here a second!" his voice booms over the public-address mike in his patrol car. The object of his attention, a young woman with wavy, shoulder-length black hair, prances across the street to the car. "If you swing your hands one more time, it'll be disorderly conduct," Bavonese warns over his loudspeaker, in reference to the particular way hookers provocatively swing their arms as they walk down the street to indicate that they're on duty.
"Hey, Officer Bavonese, are you picking on me now?" the girl asks sullenly, in the remote, disconnected voice of a very stoned person. Tonight she's dressed in black high-top Reeboks, white shorts, and a black T-shirt. She carries a portable radio attached to small headphones. Her brown eyes, free of makeup, dart in all directions. "I just need one date," she says, knowing she'll get no sympathy.
Charity Fay Nava is 23 years old. She says she began her career as a prostitute six years ago, after leaving her grandmother's home in Waukegan, Illinois. She dismisses the unfortunate turn of her life with a few obscenities and defiant, impatient tosses of her head. There's a history behind the gold front tooth that flashes when she smiles; the real tooth got knocked out by her pimp. Not long ago, he broke her jaw. She's been cut with knives on the back and arms and had guns pulled on her. "I'm the only one who takes care of me," she asserts, bumming a Marlboro from Bavonese, who orders her off the boulevard as he complies with the request. "I don't want to see you out here any more tonight," he warns. She speed-walks away, arms flailing furiously.
Because a police officer must physically witness a prostitute propositioning a client in order to arrest her on the misdemeanor charge of soliciting, cops fall back on a litany of other charges: disorderly conduct, obstructing a public roadway, and disobeying a police officer are among the most popular. But Bavonese says he and his colleagues generally try a less drastic approach before they resort to an arrest; they simply ask the girls to move on. Such tolerance is lost on the brazen ones like Roxanne, who isn't fazed by threats and whose behavior has often virtually dared the police to bust her.
"But life is so tough out here that a lot of times arresting them is a favor," Bavonese remarks. "They thank me for it. Some will have had a fight with their pimp and won't have anyplace to go. Some spent all their money on crack, they're wasted, no place to go. There's a love-hate relationship out here. I don't really love them, but sometimes I've actually forced some of them to go to the hospital. One girl was walking around with blood in her eyes, head split open; her pimp almost killed her. It makes me really angry when they refuse to press charges."
Less than a block away, shouting erupts in the parking lot of the Paraclete Motel. A svelte young woman in jeans and a flowered tank top sprints madly toward Bavonese, only to speed off in the opposite direction when she sees him. In the lot, he finds a scratched-up man, his shirt torn almost completely off. The prostitute had attempted a strong-arm robbery after they'd left their motel room. She got his beeper, but he doesn't want to press charges because he is married.
Back in his car, Bavonese falls silent, cruising south under Biscayne's bright streetlights, past the all-night markets and the motels -- the Saturn, the Seven Seas, the Economy Suites, the Sinbad.
In their crusade to clean up the boulevard, Ernestine Stevens and other residents of the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods east of Biscayne have exerted unyielding pressure on police and city officials to crack down on prostitution and drug dealing, and on the tattered motels that shelter the hookers, dealers, and pimps. About three years ago, then-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno put her then-chief assistant Katherine Fernandez Rundle in charge of a special Biscayne Boulevard enforcement effort. Despite activists' lobbying for harsher punishments, the leniency of the courts toward misdemeanors did little to moderate the behavior of hookers like Roxanne, explains Ed Griffith, Rundle's legal assistant. "One of the concerns [of the northeast community groups] was Roxanne would come into court and all she would get was time served." He remembers her well: "What can you say about Roxanne Falco? Albert Camus would love her: She's the ultimate outsider."