JACKSON HEIGHTS — Condoms confiscated during prostitution-related arrests will no longer be automatically used as evidence, the NYPD said Monday — a shift in a policy that has sparked outrage from advocates who said it unfairly profiled certain New Yorkers.
Under the new policy, condoms found at the time of an arrest will be kept with other personal property and returned once the suspect is released from custody, according to the NYPD.
In the past, condoms were used by police officers as evidence to prove suspects were prostitutes. The new rule will immediately take effect, according to the NYPD.
“This is a reasonable approach to targeting the most at risk community as it relates to safer sex practices and continuing to build strong cases against the vast criminal enterprise associated with prostitution," said Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Sonia Ossorio, President National Organization for Women, lauded the move.
“We commend Commissioner Bratton for recognizing the public health implications of using condoms as evidence for citizens and that every individual deserves to protect their health,” she said.
However, condoms will still be invoiced as evidence for arrests made for promoting prostitution and sex trafficking cases — which creates a "loophole big enough to drive a truck through," according to one advocate.
"Police can still continue to use the possession of condoms to justify an arrest, confiscate condoms from sex workers and survivors as 'investigatory evidence' where promoting or trafficking is suspected, and confiscate condoms as evidence in promoting and trafficking cases," said Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.
"This continues to send a message that it is unsafe to carry condoms."
But the new rule is still a victory for some advocates who said transgender residents were targeted and accused of being sex workers just for having condoms in their possession.
In 2012, Make the Road New York released a study that showed transgender residents in Jackson Heights were stopped and frisked at a rate higher than others — and if condoms were found, people were accused of being sex workers.
A transgender member of the organization, Yhatzine LaFountain, said she experienced the profiling firsthand.
"Condoms are supposed to protect us, not turn us into criminals," she said. "As transgender members of Make the Road New York, we will work closely with our allies to monitor the implementation of this important policy change."
The state Assembly passed the "No Condoms As Evidence" bill in June 2013, but it has not been voted on in the state Senate.