Over the past 18 months, Johns Creek police have made a dozen arrests at a string of massage parlors along Medlock Bridge Road.
The last arrest, an Asian woman with no identification, tested positive for tuberculosis.
In response, nearly 100 residents turned out Monday night to tell city leaders to keep pressure on businesses that operate illegally. Their focus was directed at seven massage parlors operating along a three-mile stretch of one of the city’s major thoroughfares.
“Sexual exploitation does not belong in Johns Creek or anywhere,” resident Michele Sarkisian said. “No one I’ve met ever considers themselves fortunate to be a prostitute and they would get out of it if they could get help and be safe.”
No one is protesting legitimate operators, resident Ash Thourani said, but the illegal activity presents a threat to children, property values and the community.
“Please don’t let this thing get out of control,” he said.
The plea for tighter controls on the industry follows recent crackdowns throughout metro Atlanta. Last year, Duluth followed Sandy Springs’ lead in imposing licensing fees and strict regulations on the businesses.
Johns Creek Police Chief Ed Densmore said he has targeted violators since the department was founded in 2008.
“A large part of what we’ve dealt with are undocumented women with no identification and no understanding of the language,” he said.
City Council members offered no comment on the issue, but some stayed after the meeting to join residents in a briefing about what steps they could take to fight prostitution at the businesses.
City Manager John Kachmar said the city has been making arrests and fining the businesses for code violations when they are discovered.
“As a result of our work, three establishments have closed. We’ve denied the licenses to some establishments that don’t follow the regulations,” he said.
Kachmar said that while law prohibits governments from discriminating against most businesses, it does allow for some regulation. He said residents can use their free-speech rights to protest a business if the protest is staged legally.
Following the meeting, Mayor Mike Bodker said the turnout of residents will give him and other elected officials the impetus to explore new options in controlling the proliferation of prostitution.
“If there are changes that can be made — to the extent they are policy-oriented — then the council can act,” he said. “If it’s related to enforcement, then that’s something we can’t get involved with.”