WKYT Investigates: A small Ky. town with a big problem

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WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - It might be a small town, but it's a big problem. You expect prostitution arrests in bigger cities, like Lexington but not Winchester.

But what about in smaller communities? In a WKYT Investigation, we looked at prostitution arrests in throughout central Kentucky. There were none in every county, expect one.

From the outside looking in, Winchester looks like small town USA with lots of little shops along Main Street. But business owners along that downtown strip tell us there's much more going on down there than meets the eye.

"There's all kinds of shops but then you have that right in the middle of it," said Emily Smith, the owner of PackRats Variety Store in Winchester. "And it just hurts it. It really does."

The business without a store front is what local business owners, like Emily Smith, say is pushing people out of downtown Winchester.

"They will go up to cars, they will knock on the windows, they will get out in the middle of the street!" said Smith. "They will yell, they will scream, they will throw their hands in the air! They are very blazing."

Prostitutes are posted up on street corners in broad daylight.

"Pretty much like a drive through window," said Winchester Police Chief Kevin Palmer.

Winchester police shared with us the names and mug shots of the four women who have been arrested and charged with prostitution.

"It's unfortunate, but it's the nature of any drug addiction," said Chief Palmer.

It's been the topic of conversation at the monthly small business meetings in this tiny Kentucky town.

"We saw one get accepted one day. She was sitting in one spot. She left, came back about 20 minutes later, and sat right back down in the same spot and within minutes went away again," said Smith.

A few changes in the right direction have been made with the Winchester police department's help. For instance, a city bench used to be on Main Street, and locals tell us prostitutes would use it to bring in foot traffic. The city bench was recently moved, and as for the prostitutes, they moved as well, just on down the road.

Also, Winchester police passed out "no loitering" signs have been given to business owners to keep prostitutes and their customers away, so the store's customers can shop without being offered something they don't want to buy.

The prostitution happens right in front of their stores, forcing people like Smith off Main Street. She moved PackRats to what Winchester locals call "the good side of the tracks" and tells us her business has tripled since that move.

"It's the best move we could've made for the business!" said Smith.

Bringing in undercover law enforcement from out of town, the Winchester police chief tells us they've been able to go after the suspected johns. They arrested and charged five men on March 15 this year in that operation.

"It'll be an ongoing thing," said Chief Palmer. "With the summer coming and the warm weather, it'll be something that we'll have to monitor regularly."

"There's so much that could be done down there, but that problem just really puts a hurt on it," said Smith.

Chief Palmer also tells us that unless they hear discussion of an act along with the mention of money in exchange, arresting these men and women is illegal. That's why combating the problem is so difficult.

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