North Fulton cities casting sharper eye on massage parlors

Two north Fulton cities are mapping strategies to target prostitution at local massage parlors.

City leaders in Alpharetta will consider a measure Monday night that strengthens existing laws regulating the businesses.

“We want to see to it these businesses are regulated a little better, and make sure they’re operating properly,” Alpharetta Councilman D.C. Aiken said.

Alpharetta has 12 licensed massage businesses, ranging from spas to chiropractors to massage parlors.

Police spokesman George Gordon said while there have been few local complaints, the ordinance revision is a response to growing problems in neighboring jurisdictions and would close potential loopholes.

At the same time, residents in Johns Creek are forming a campaign to stop the spread of massage parlors that allow prostitution in their city.

More than 100 residents petitioned the Johns Creek City Council in April seeking tighter controls on seven massage parlors operating along Medlock Bridge Road, where police have made a dozen arrests over the past 18 months. Since then, the group has met regularly to draft plans to combat illegal activity.

Larry Hanlon, one of the citizen organizers, said the group is studying methods that have proved successful in other areas of the country.

“Tactically we believe that there must be cooperation across local communities to maximize effectiveness,” he said. “What value is there in moving a problem from one community to another?”

So far, the group seems agreed that tougher laws are not the only answer. Hanlon said the approach will draw on effective methods garnered from social workers, academics and city leaders from other jurisdictions.

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to educating the public about the threat illicit massage parlors can pose to individuals and to a community. That includes teaching young men and fathers the seriousness of exploiting women, he said.

“Compassion toward a victim is required as well,” Hanlon said.

Johns Creek Police Chief Ed Densmore said enforcing sex code violations can be costly and time-consuming, involving several officers. Nevertheless, he said, the department does keep watch for illegal activity.

City Attorney William Riley said prosecuting misdemeanor sex offenses in Fulton County has virtually no deterrent effect because jail space is so scarce. Cities are often better to address licensing issues.

“We prosecute if people fail to have appropriate licensure, if they fail to maintain correct records,” said Riley, who also serves as solicitor in nearby Sandy Springs. “The penalty is up to six months in jail, the highest you can get on an ordinance violation.”

Li Yong, a spokesman for Tulip Massage on Medlock Bridge Road, said it’s difficult enough operating under all the licensing requirements imposed by the city, so owners are not looking for more trouble.

“They are very strict with the girls who are doing the massages, even about what they can wear,” he said. “If the owners find out something is going on that is wrong, they correct it.”