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Four Logan Circle residents are getting settled into the underground parking garage of a neighborhood apartment complex on a Saturday night at 11 p.m. Connie Sharp is dusting off lawn chairs; David Cecelski and Chasta Jones are starting up two laptop computers and a printer while Gary Caruso hovers nearby. The garage floor angles steeply down, and there are some 30 refrigerators stacked neatly along the walls.
The residents are here at the invitation of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Lt. Michael Smith. They have volunteered to help staff a 3rd District sting operation, in which two undercover officers will be posing as prostitutes at the top of the block while 10 other officers play supporting roles. The garage is to be the booking station.
Dave Cecelski, a genial man in his mid-40s, passes around Life Savers and cinnamon Tic Tacs. “In case the johns have bad breath,” he says.
Jones and Sharp occupy themselves by taking pale lengths of plastic and snapping them into circles to make handcuffs. The sound echoes around the garage. “I thought those were for the genitalia,” Cecelski jokes. Jones and Cecelski chat about their mutual affinity for the television show Cops. “This is better,” Jones says.
Officer Leah Singleton, one of the undercover officers, arrives dressed in a skimpy blouse; the top of her panties is visible over tight jeans. “You look like a ho!” Jones says by way of greeting.
After the residents have been briefed on how to fill out a computerized arrest/prosecution record form, Officer Singleton prepares to stroll the block. “I bet she’ll get all sorts of proposals,” the middle-aged Caruso says. “She’s got a classic beauty.”
Before she leaves, Caruso gives the officer some free advice, based on a proposal he says a friend of a colleague once got. “Say, ‘Hey, big daddy, want a date?’” he suggests. Singleton refreshes her lipstick and repeats it archly.
“You gotta show your soft side,” Sharp tells the officer.
Less than 10 minutes after Singleton and Officer Olivia Wilcox start working the street, Smith comes running in with a driver’s license taken from their first arrestee. Caruso types furiously on Cecelski’s laptop as Smith reads him the information. Cecelski fiddles with the laptop’s cables.
Soon, the undercover officers come back; Singleton now simpers and adds “daddy” to the end of every statement. Her high heels have already given her a blister, and Cecelski volunteers to drive to his nearby house for a Band-Aid. “Do you want a sheer one?” he asks. Singleton looks at him quizzically. “What do you expect?” Cecelski says. “I’m a fag!”
“Right on, girl!” Singleton replies.
Some other officers bring in the alleged john, handcuff him, and put him in a corner, three car lengths from the civilians.
Cecelski dashes to his SUV, accidentally setting off his own car alarm. It echoes for a long time. Everyone looks at each other. “We gotta focus here,” Lt. Smith says.
The undercovers leave again. Within minutes, they are back. This time, the arrestee allegedly asked Officer Singleton, “How much to fuck, how much to suck?”
“So vulgar!” Jones says, laughing and covering her mouth with a tissue.
Because the first suspect never agreed to a specific sex act, Smith orders him released. No one has scissors for the plastic handcuffs, so Cecelski, back with the Band-Aid, heads home again for a pair of pliers.
In rapid succession, three more alleged johns are brought in. They look impassively at the civilians, who mostly have their backs turned.
Dictating her narrative to Jones, Officer Wilcox says that her john, who’s about 4-foot-5, asked her, “‘Are you a cop? I’ve been busted three times already. I ain’t about to go back to jail.’”
Caruso tells Wilcox, “Next time they ask you if you’re a cop, say ‘And my father’s the president!’” He repeats the suggestion several times.
By 2:40 a.m., seven arrestees have been piled in the police wagon and taken off to detention.
The neighbors cluster around Singleton, complimenting her for bravery. The officer says it usually took her less than two minutes to find a would-be john. Most of them are from Virginia, she adds.
Cecelski comes in with McDonald’s food for everyone, his treat.
Now Smith tells the neighbors that they can drive around and try their hand at spotting prostitutes. He tells one of his sergeants to give the neighbors his cell number, so they can call him after a sighting.
“This is Saturday night,” the sergeant says. “If we don’t find them, I’ll give you a call.”
Lt. Smith says, “Well, they need something to do.”
“Don’t touch the girls. Don’t even look at the girls,” he tells the neighbors. “Just call us. Tell us where they are and what they’re wearing.”
Cecelski, Sharp, and Caruso get in Cecelski’s car and drive around through alleys and side streets, but no one is around. “They must have gotten word,” someone says regretfully.
On the 1300 block of Vermont Avenue NW, Cecelski spots a young man sauntering on the sidewalk, the first pedestrian of any sort they’ve seen so far. “There’s your pimp right there,” he says knowledgeably. “And those are the enforcers,” he says as he makes a turn, pointing to a group of men standing at the corner.
At 15th and L, Sharp calls in a description of an Asian woman with bleached-blond hair who’s stumbling on the sidewalk. Cecelski gleefully points to the tattoos on her buttocks, which are evident beneath her white fur jacket. He triumphantly dials up his cousin in Massachusetts on a cell. “Hey, we’re lookin’ for the hos….Got one—cheeks a’blazin’….She was quite attractive!”
At 15th and K, they spot two more women, scantily clad and teetering down the sidewalk. Sharp calls them in. “White and red pumps,” Cecelski reminds her loudly.
“We can’t do K Street,” Sharp says shortly afterward. She’s well-versed in the 3rd District’s boundaries.
“That’s crap,” Cecelski says.
At Caruso’s suggestion, they return to the garage. It’s after 3:30 a.m. One alleged prostitute—not one of the women spotted by the group—has been arrested. She sits on a lawn chair and shivers.
Cecelski rushes to Lt. Smith with a takeout menu from a Chinese restaurant called Ho’s Dynasty. Finally, around 4:15, the neighbors go home. CP