Crackdown

| September 03, 2002

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The owner of an independent truck stop known for prostitution turns its image around by bringing in police patrols and boosting security. A police sting nabs truckers who make a date with the wrong “party girl.” A major fleet implements a system to alert its drivers of questionable truck stops and rest areas.

Efforts such as these are helping clean up prostitution and related problems that have long plagued truck stops and rest areas.

Eight years ago, Dave Silverman, owner of Walt Whitman Truck Stop in downtown Philadelphia, vowed to clear his truck stop of prostitution and other crime. Today, police patrol his location several times daily. He installed security cameras and employs a private security guard. “If we see it at its original point of the prostitute leaving a truck, that trucker is asked to leave and never come back – even if it’s a house account,” he says.

Silverman is hardly alone in his efforts to discourage prostitution. Members of NATSO, the trade association of truck stop and travel plaza operators, have been making their lots safer for years, says NATSO spokeswoman Lisa Mullings. In the wake of Sept. 11, truck stop safety efforts are increasing, she says. “We’re encouraging our members to adopt comprehensive security measures,” Mullings says.

With more than 57 locations, Petro spends more than $2 million each year on security, including contracts with local law enforcement and with private security firms. In addition, 70 percent of its parking areas are fenced. “We try to restrict our parking areas to professional drivers only,” says Keith Kirkpatrick, Petro director of operations. “We can’t prevent [prostitution], all we can do is have deterrents out there.”

A high-tech camera has been an effective deterrent at the T/A in Knoxville, Tenn., says Cyndi Flack, who works at the fuel desk. “Word has gotten out to all the lot lizards in Knoxville, and they no longer visit our parking lot,” she says. “If there is one caught on the lot we zoom the camera in and film until the law gets there, and they both go to jail.” This level of security has earned the truck stop positive comments from truckers, Flack says. “We are striving to make a better place for the drivers to rest and to have a good time while they are visiting us.”

Some carriers take a proactive role in keeping their drivers safe on the road. Swift Transportation, for example, has established good communications with truck stop security officers, as well as with law enforcement personnel around the country, says Gary Fitzsimmons, security director.

“I routinely have security people call me about things going on with our drivers,” Fitzsimmons says. “Sometimes they say they saw a known prostitute get in one of our trucks. I’ve had that happen twice this year.” Such an incident is grounds for termination.

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