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Wausau, Weston considering ordinance to license escort services


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- There may soon be local ordinances to help control prostitution in the Wausau area.

Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel says work is underway to draft an ordinance that would require people advertising escort services to be licensed. Hardel says this would be an additional tool along with existing criminal law to deter people from engaging in these activities. Hardel says now, the criminal charges are their only option.  “We have to go through a formality of making sure that the elements of the crime are met, and as we do that, that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, and we have to make sure that we have achieved certain things during that investigation, so it’s a much higher level of involvement in the investigation to get a criminal charge.”

The Chief says there are people involved in prostitution that don’t meet all of the criminal arrest guidelines, and the threat of an expensive fine should be an additional deterrent.  “With the ordinance of licensing the escorts, simply if they’re advertising their services and they are not licensed, it’s a violation. It just gives us another option. If we don’t meet all of the elements of official prostitution or solicitation of prostitution, we have the local ordinance of simply not being licensed.”

Wausau is not the only community looking into this option. So is the Everest Metro Police district of Weston and Schofield. They are looking at fines in the $2,000 to $5,000 dollar range, and requiring licensed escorts to be fingerprinted, pass background checks, and file a formal business plan. Weston could pass their ordinance as early as April 7th.

Hardel would like to see a common ordinance in the area.  “I think there’s a number of agencies, neighboring agencies in the metro area that are looking at this, so hopefully it would be metro-wide.”

There are other advantage to having the municipal ordinance in place besides the deterrent. The ordinance violation would be handled in municipal court and would not show up on criminal records. “The penalty now you know, it’s a criminal charge, which I believe it’s a misdemeanor, but it goes through circuit court and it’s managed as a crime, where if we have this ordinance, that’s actually a forfeiture. It’s simply a municipal citation and forfeiture which is not a crime, does not go on their criminal record, but they would need to pay a fine.”

Hardel says the legal research is underway, and some similar ordinances in other cities is being reviewed. A draft ordinance or two should be ready for the Public Health and Safety Committee by April or May, and could make it to the full city council by early this summer.

(Listen to our interview with Police Chief Jeff Hardel on our website, here.)