San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution
Final Report 1996

II. Costs of Prostitution Law Enforcement in San Francisco 1994

Defining the monetary cost of enforcing prostitution laws in San Francisco is difficult. None of the city departments and agencies with responsibility for dealing with prostitution have been able to segregate their prostitution enforcement costs from their overall budgets. Because the departments previously have seen no need to assign time, material, and overhead costs to such a specific program function, the city is left in the posture of not knowing how much prostitution enforcement costs or whether it is an effective application of resources.

The Task Force has made the best estimate possible, based on the Departments' own projections. (See Appendix D.: Law and Law Enforcement). None of the agencies were able to provide a definitive measurement of the amount of time and money spent to combat prostitution, or otherwise deal with its consequences. We have made informed approximations when necessary. We believe the actual costs may be even higher than the numbers cited here.

Police Costs

The Police Department acts as a gatekeeper for enforcing prostitution laws; its decisions on deployment of its resources subsequently obligate all other branches of the system to expend their resources as well. Currently, the Vice Crimes Division has primary responsibility for prostitution enforcement, augmented by patrol resources and special units such as the Tenderloin Task Force.

The Vice Department comprises 12 police officers who devote the majority of their time and resources to prostitution abatement and the remainder to gambling. It also investigates any felonies committed by prostitutes. In 1994, there were 17 felony prostitution arrests made by the Vice Crimes Division.29

Vice Crimes Division personnel costs $815,452.0030 Vice Crimes Division vehicle costs $ 8,000.00

While the Department could not report specifically how much it expends on prostitution abatement, there may be additional Vice Crimes Division costs not included in these two figures. General overhead expenses such as materials, light, heat, telephones, furniture and the like are aggregated in a different part of the police budget.

Regular patrol officers at district stations supplement the Vice Division efforts. The Police Department did not provide any estimate of how much time and resources the uniformed patrol function applies to prostitution abatement. It should be noted that the patrol portion of the abatement effort often does not result in an arrest, but nevertheless consumes time, as patrol officers stop to conduct field interrogations of suspected loiterers or respond to complaints about prostitution activity.

In a more regularized fashion, the Tenderloin Task Force has been conducting periodic "sweeps" of suspected prostitutes and drug sellers in the downtown core. The Chief of Police did not provide any accounting of the costs associated with these sweeps, in which uniformed officers patrol the downtown core in search of suspected prostitutes, arresting them under Penal Code section 372 which prohibits "public nuisance." In past years these sweeps have occurred as often as several times a week, resulting numerous arrests each night.31 Presently there are about 60 officers assigned to the Tenderloin Task Force, along with their equipment and overhead. Based on an average salary/benefit cost of $54,500 per officer, this Task Force costs approximately $3.2 million annually.32The Tenderloin Task Force spends a significant portion their time and resources on prostitution abatement, so that estimated costs of related activities of this special unit amount to approximately $1.3 million.

One other potentially significant expense is not included in our estimates. Arresting officers are paid overtime while awaiting court proceedings if they would otherwise not be on duty. Since most Vice officers work nights, the overtime costs may be significant. In addition, officers assigned to other departments work in Vice during their 'overtime' hours.33

Initial Incarceration Costs

Once a prostitute has been arrested, the City incurs new expenses on incarceration, pending an initial court appearance. Many are held in custody and some may spend the weekend in jail before being released, usually because of past failures to appear.34

The remainder spend between three and six hours in jail before being released. Each arrest requires booking, fingerprinting, computer checks and other processing before eligibility for release, all of which represent the more labor-intensive and therefore the most expensive aspect of the incarceration process.

Some persons arrested for prostitution crimes are not booked, but cited to appear at a later date. Those cited are not immediately booked, but must be fingerprinted and processed on their first court date. Those expenses are not included in our estimates.

Each day in jail costs approximately $60 per inmate.35 Short term incarceration costs and an educated projection of the above costs associated with booking, fingerprinting and processing on the first court date amount to approximately $312,000.

Court Costs

Once an arrested person has been processed through the jail and released on either bail or a promise to appear, prostitution enforcement activity turns to the municipal court system. Of the 5,269 prostitution-related arrests in 1994, only 2,400 of these cases were taken to court.36 In over half the cases the District Attorney chose not to press charges, most likely based on lack of evidence as well as budget considerations. "The courts are busy and the D.A.s don't have time," said one Municipal Court administrator, anonymously, when asked to explain this discrepancy. "The police are probably just harassing the people and hoping that they go someplace else..."

Those 2,400 cases that do go to court represent somewhat more than one-fourth of the Municipal Court's total case throughput of 8,000 cases a year. The city spends about $8 million annually for operation of Municipal Courts.

The average prostitution court case requires five appearances: Arraignment; two or three pretrial conferences or disposition, dates; and a sentencing hearing upon conviction. Factors such as the complexity of the case, whether Pretrial Diversion is available, and other variables make it difficult to calculate precisely how much is spent on prostitution enforcement in the court system. It is estimated that such costs, including judicial salaries, clerks, bailiffs, courtroom overhead, etc., is approximately $2.5 million annually.37

Attorney Costs

The vast majority of those arrested and brought to court on prostitution-related charges are prosecuted and defended at public expense. The cost for the District Attorney's office to prosecute these cases has been estimated at $750,000 annually.38

The Public Defender's Office represents approximately 60 percent of those charged with prostitution. The cost to defend these cases is estimated at $500,000 annually.39

Long term Incarceration Costs

There are an average of 45 people in jail after conviction for prostitution at any given time.40 Calculation of the cost of long-term incarceration would require an analysis of variables such as the average length of sentence, multiplied by the daily cost per inmate of long-term incarceration. Most of those sentenced to jail terms serve 30 days to 90 days.

Based on the reported $60 per day incarceration cost and the average daily number of prisoners serving prostitution-related sentences, it would appear that long term incarceration costs approximate $985,500 annually.

Additional Corrections Costs

In addition to short-term and long-term incarceration costs, the city expends funds administering probation, county parole, pre-trial diversion, and supervised recognizance programs for those arrested and/or convicted of prostitution that together cost approximately $100,000 annually.

Additional expenses not included in these figures are state incarceration, probation and parole expenses for persons who have been charged with prostitution-related parole violations in connection with former felony offenses.41

Forensic Health Programs

Under state law, those convicted of soliciting for prostitution are required to undergo mandatory HIV testing. This program is annually budgeted at $363,098.00. Additionally, the chief epidemiologist is required to appear in Court and confirm the test results in each subsequent felony prosecution. Based on the figure of 17 felony prostitution arrests that year, taxpayers spent approximately $700.00 for the Epidemiologist's time.


The total costs accounted for in this report amounts to $7,634,750.00. Given the many areas in which we found that information is not available, or there are hidden costs, the over all expense to the taxpayer exceeds $7.6 million annually.42

Despite the heavy emphasis on enforcement as a solution, the incidence of prostitution does not decrease over time. In 1991, there were 2, 518 prostitution related arrests; in 1992, 4,785; in 1993, 3,218 ; in, 1994, 5,269. Moreover, these policies are not eliminating problems articulated by the neighborhood residents.

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