HICKSVILLE - Covering a lot of crime on Long Island, you're aware when a police department is trying to combat a certain problem. You see more arrests being made, in turn, sending a message. It seems as though Nassau County Narcotics/Vice Squad is sending a very clear message when it comes to prostitution. Do it in Nassau County, and you're going to get caught.
Prostitution, however, comes in different forms. And one particular type is showing up more and more on Long Island. It's hard to drive down some streets and not see a massage parlor, or salon. But what a lot of Long Islanders don't know, is that inside many of these places, prostitution is happening.
So, which places are offering more than a massage?
Deputy Inspector Kevin Smith, commanding officer of the Narcotics Vice Squad in Nassau County knows exactly how to spot an illegal salon. He, along with Sgt. Brian Sweeney and their team, have been battling this problem intensely for months now. They say the crime is fueled by websites like backpage.com. Many massage parlors advertise their services there, alerting prospective "Johns" about where they can go, to get more than a massage.
Being the inquisitive reporter that I am, I asked to go along on an undercover sting of a massage parlor. The process starts out at their command, searching backpage.com and other websites. "The ads are very creative," Dep. Inspector Smith says. "The signs say everything from acupuncture to therapy to foot massages. But if you look on backpage, you'll know exactly what they're advertising."
Within 30 seconds, the squad finds two salons who offer something extra after the massage. We get in the car and head over to the first one. An undercover detective goes in wearing a secret recording device so Sgt. Sweeney and I can listen in. About 30 minutes later, the special offer comes. The undercover declines, and leaves. Then he confirms to Sgt. Sweeney the offer was made and gives a description of the woman. That's when the team heads in and makes the arrest.
"Often times the girls will say they are paying off a debt," Sgt. Sweeney says. "They were brought to this country by someone who sponsored them." The squad will even investigate whether or not it's a sex trafficking situation, where the woman was brought to the country soley to perform sex for money.
The police are cracking down on this type of prostitution, to try and better the quality of life for people living in Nassau County. We went to two salons in Hicksville, in areas I myself have traveled hundreds of times, never knowing prostitution was happening there. By making these arrests, the police are cleaning up the areas for people who are playing by the rules. That's what is most important.
Deputy Inspector Smith says, "These massage parlor stings are necessary to better the quality of life, to better the neighborhood, to better the community that we live in."