The San Francisco District Attorney and San Francisco Police Department announced on April 16 that it would no longer consider the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution.
According to an SFPD department bulletin obtained by the Transgender Law Center, the city's district attorney and public defender's office agreed to revise a policy that formerly allowed officers to use even unopened condoms as evidence of that a person intended to solicit sex for money.
"Going forward it shall be Department policy not to confiscate, photograph, or otherwise document possession of open/unopened condoms," says the bulletin, signed by Chief of Police Gregory Suhr. "Members may continue to photograph or otherwise document possession of money and related paraphernalia when establishing probable cause for 'loitering for the purpose of prostition.' "
San Francisco was one of three major U.S. cities using condoms as evidence profiled in a scathing report from Human Rights Watch last year titled "Sex Workers at risk."
That report found that a staggering 52% of sex workers in the U.S. said there had been times when they opted not to carry condoms because they were afraid doing so would lead to problems with the police. HIV Plus spoke with a San Francisco Police officer who called the policy a "Catch-22," since officers are required to report all evidence they obtain when charging someone with prostitution.
“Being law enforcement officers, we cannot lie,” SFPD officer and spokesman Carlos Manfredi told HIV Plus last year. “We have to give them all the facts that we see what’s presented to us. Say we don’t disclose that information in court, then the defense can use that against us.”
But with Tuesday's directive, that conflict may be resolved — in San Francisco, at least.