BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- NYPD officers are trying to deal with a surge in prostitution in some areas of New York City, like one neighborhood in Brooklyn where dozens of women openly sell their bodies, but cops say they aren't the problem, they are the victims.
Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger got an exclusive look Thursday night at the NYPD's new strategy to combat the illicit sex trade.
It was almost midnight in a desolate stretch of industrial buildings and garbage truck parking lots. This part of the city should be deserted, but in the shadows of the night, it was crawling with people.
Women, some barely in their teens, and most of them barely dressed, walked the street as dozens of cars cruised the neighborhood in circles. The men inside were shopping for sex.
In a part of East New York called the "Penn Track" a few square blocks off Pennsylvania Avenue, is where officers believe as many as 350 pimps joust for position, and employ countless young women, most against their will.
"There's a huge misconception around choice," sex trafficking survivor Melanie Thompson said. "Around the idea that these women are choosing to do this because they woke up one day and decided they wanted to.
Cops now view the women as victims of sex traffickers caught in the switches between abusive pimps and the need to meet quotas, and the so-called "sex buyers."
"These pimps are abusing these women," NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said. "They're assaulting them, you know? They're afraid to get help."
Step one was to sweep the neighborhood of the pimps who sit in their cars and watch the women do their work. That way, advocates working with the cops can approach the women and offer them help in getting out of this life.
In one instance, police say they found one pimp with an exploited woman in his car, and what appeared to be crack cocaine.
Officers arrested him and impounded his car.
"We're driving his car away, we're going to take his vehicle away, he'll go back to the precinct, we'll determine the appropriate charges in a little while," Daughtry said. "Now we're going to have our advocates come over to go talk to who we believe is a sexually exploited person."
The advocates then approached her, who was now out of the sight of her pimp, with information on how to get help.
"For law enforcement to partner with us and say we agree, we're standing in solidarity, we want to convey this message that we recognize that the primary prevention here is to go after the demand, the men who are fueling the sex trade, is so inspiring," said Ane Mathieson of Sanctuary for Families.
Police say they've come to see prostitution in this area as a supply and demand problem that fuels violent crime.
"The perception when you look at this particular activity is that there's no violence attributed with it, and unfortunately, that's just not the case," said Inspector Rohan Griffith, commanding officer of the local 75th Precinct.
This operation yielded all kinds of other results officers might not have otherwise expected.
Police arrested 10 sex buyers, so called "Johns," who tried to solicit an undercover cop.
When cops pulled over a white car, they found not a pimp, but four men with an illegal gun. That was just one of three guns cops took off the street during their sweep Thursday night.
They also found a ghost gun in the waistband of a 13-year-old boy.
That's important, because nearly half of shootings in this track have been linked to the sex trade.
"I've seen firsthand the issues quality-of-life-wise and violence-wise in this particular area," Griffith said. "And I sympathize with the community wholeheartedly. I hear their concerns, I hear their complaints, I share those concerns and complaints and that's why I'm so grateful today that we have so many of our partners here."
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