Recently appointed New Haven Police Department Chief James Lewis plans to make New Haven streets safer by tackling the world’s oldest profession: prostitution.

Undercover officers from the NHPD arrested eight prostitutes and 12 “johns” in two separate stings over the last two weeks in Fair Haven and the Dwight/Kensington neighborhoods. The stings were part of a strategy engineered by Lewis to combat prostitution in New Haven, which he immediately identified as one of the city’s biggest problems, said City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.

Anti-prostitution stings and “more activity of this nature” will continue in upcoming months, Mayorga said, and they may help NHPD officers tackle other crimes often connected with prostitution, such as drug trafficking and domestic violence.

The first sting occurred late Aug. 14 night, when NHPD officers arrested 12 “johns,” or men looking to hire prostitutes, who were caught in the process of soliciting sexual services from a female undercover agent. Eleven of the arrested men were charged with patronizing a prostitute. One was charged with aiding and abetting the patronization of a prostitute.

The second sting on Aug. 21 targeted prostitutes. Eight women were arrested in the process of attempting to peddle their services to a police officer posing as a “john.”

Before the stings, Lewis discussed his plans to target the city’s prostitution with several community leaders, Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead said, though the decision to implement a series of stings was never discussed formally with the Board of Aldermen.

The NHPD hopes that this new focus on prostitution will help the department simultaneously tackle other areas of criminal activity, Mayorga said. Prostitution is not a “stand-alone crime,” she said, and the practice often goes hand-in-hand with other crimes. Mayorga said she thinks the two stings alone could potentially have significant impact on crime prevention. But, she said, she could not comment on whether the arrested women were victims of domestic violence.

Morehead said Lewis’ aim to control the sex industry is the first “aggressive attempt” to address the issue in recent years and, although he said none of his constituents in Ward 22 have complained of problems involving street prostitution, he said he suspects other wards have experienced the ill effects of the sex trade in their neighborhoods.

“These stings are going to be ongoing until the problem is controlled,” Morehead said. “And they’re one among many deterrents [to crime] that will be done in different wards. It’s not just picking on prostitution, or one ward, or one area of crime.”

Mayorga said, in this case, it was particularly important to make the public familiar with the names and faces of these individuals. In two press releases e-mailed on Aug. 15 and 22, city officials included the full names, addresses, dates-of-births and photographs of all the arrested individuals.

The names and addresses reveal that the majority of the “johns” arrested in the sting were men living outside of the neighborhoods where they were soliciting sexual services. This fact, Mayorga said, has been particularly worrisome to the chief of police.

“Johns are traveling from other communities to take part in illegal and disruptive activities in someone else’s backyard,” Lewis said in the Aug. 15 press release. “There’s no reason why women and children have to fear walking in their neighborhoods because they are going to be accosted by men looking to patronize prostitutes.”

Eight of the arrested “johns” are residents of New Haven. Six of the eight prostitutes arrested in the second sting were New Haven residents. The women ranged in age from 28 to 56 years old.