Photo courtesy of Koo's office.
Councilman Peter Koo (c.) at Bland Playground in Flushing where prostitution has become an issue in the area where children play.

Once referred to as Flushing’s “Restaurant Row,” 40th Road off Main Street has gained notoriety in recent weeks as an unofficial red light district where young women aggressively solicit sex 24/7 on the street and even in nearby Bland Playground.

Now local lawmakers, business leaders and the NYPD are stepping up efforts to clean the area up.

Councilman Peter Koo updated the public on March 8 at Bland Playground about efforts to eliminate prostitution in the area, where dozens of girls have solicited people for sex.

Koo was joined by the Flushing Business Improvement District, members of the 109th Precinct, and Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Councilman Donovan Richards, to discuss the issue at 40th Road in Flushing — which has nearly two dozen restaurants, the entrance to the Flushing-Main Street stop on the Long Island Rail Road, Bland Playground and numerous massage parlors which have allegedly doubled as illegal brothels.

The block of 40th Road between Main and Prince Streets is the same site where, in 2017, a prostitute committed suicide by leaping from a building as she was about to be arrested during a NYPD sting, according to reports.

In collaboration with the 109th Precinct and the Flushing BID, Koo’s office has been working to expose, identify and shut down several brothels posing as massage parlors on 40th Road. Additionally, Koo has spoken directly with several landlords on the block to demand that they evict tenants who engage in illegal activity.

As a result, most of the fake massage parlors have now either been padlocked by the NYPD or had their locks changed by landlords, Koo reported on March 8.

“We have made significant progress in cleaning up 40th Road thanks to a combination of police enforcement, community engagement and even media exposure,” he said. “For too long, this pervasive issue has plagued our community, but we are here to say that ends today. In the past, crackdowns result in the problem going away for a little while only to resurface again. This will take consistent enforcement, and my office plans to stay engaged on this matter with police, business owners, landlords and the community.”

According to the NYPD, in 2018 there were 24 closings of legal and illegal massage parlors conducting prostitution within the 109th Precinct and 52 closings in total within the Patrol Borough Queens North.

In a statement to QNS, NYPD spokeswoman Sergeant Jessica McRorie said the NYPD is working to end prostitution conditions and has shifted focus on enforcement operations to target pimps and johns primarily during anti-prostitution investigations and arrests, and on the closure of locations through civil action taken against landlords who are complicit in the illegal business of prostitution.

When arrests are made for prostitution, those arrested are delivered to a diversion court where they are offered help and services in lieu of prosecution in criminal court.

The NYPD also understands that some of the women involved in prostitution are being “forced, coerced or otherwise made to against their will,” and the department works with its partners to offer services to those who why may be victimized, according to McRorie.

“The NYPD facilitates the work of our partners in connecting the victims of human trafficking with social services,” said McRorie. “The NYPD does this by conducting operations where we provide safe access for social service providers to enter these establishments and assist the victimized without arrests being made.”

Koo is currently planning a sex trafficking seminar with the NYPD and local women’s shelter nonprofits in order to educate the community about sex trafficking.

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