SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Residents of downtown San Jose marched down South First Street Thursday evening to raise awareness about what they say is an increase in prostitution and drug dealing in their neighborhood.

“First Street is open for business — but not the good kind,” said Omar Torres, executive director of Santa Maria Urban Ministry.

Torres’ ministry partnered with the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Organization to organize the event, which happened at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Biblioteca Latinoamericana at 921 S. First St. and lasted about an hour.

Since the Police Department’s vice unit, which dealt specifically with prostitution, gambling and other issues, was disbanded last year because of budget cuts, Torres said people in his neighborhood began seeing more prostitution on First Street.

He said the situation is especially troubling because the illicit activity happens right in the path of the community’s youth — near Washington Elementary School, the library branch, and the Washington United Youth Center, all of which are on or near South First Street.

KCBS’ Mike Colgan Reports:

San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, whose district includes the neighborhood, said in a statement Thursday that he would walk alongside residents.

“Our offices and the San Jose Police Department field multiple calls every week from community members who tell us they can’t let their kids walk to the library or the bus stop for fear of being harassed by pimps or prostitutes,” Liccardo said.

Torres said prostitution occurs day and night, though he said the activity increases after 6 p.m.

“You blatantly see women standing on the corner in high heels pretending to talk on cellphones with practically nothing on … cars slowing down for them, asking them how much they are,” Torres said.

Torres said he hopes the march will be one way for the community to fight back, “to let everyone know that we’re fed up with what’s been going on on South First Street and we’re not going to let it happen anymore.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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