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Joe Seahawk
05-12-2007, 01:01 AM
How far is too far for vice cops patrolling Seattle strip clubs?
By SCOTT GUTIERREZ
P-I REPORTER

For an undercover cop in a strip joint, how far is too far?

One Seattle cop reported that he grabbed an exotic dancer's breasts several times as she gyrated in his lap.

Lindsey, 24, who has worked at Rick's for six years, gets ready at her Issaquah home for another night at the strip club. She was at Rick's twice when the club was raided but was never arrested.
Another undid his belt for the dancer grinding against him -- allowing her to slide her hand into his pants.

A third paid $100 to a stripper for four lap dances in a row as he tested whether she'd offer sex for money (she didn't).

The three Seattle cops were part of a strip-club sting operation aimed at catching dancers who cross the line. But did the officers themselves violate department rules, or the law?

The Police Department's vice unit regularly inspects the city's four strip clubs. The unit occasionally sends in officers who, posing as customers, pay for private dances to check for law violations.

But some defense attorneys and legal experts -- and a City Council member charged with police oversight -- criticize tactics that have officers initiating sexual contact, or repeatedly buying dances from the same woman in hopes of building a case for prostitution.

They question the department's priorities: why undercover cops need to be so aggressive in cases that rarely rise above a misdemeanor, and that are frequently dismissed as the result of a court diversion program.

"There's no legal reason for an officer to purchase multiple dances from the same person if she commits a violation on the first dance," said Gil Levy, an attorney who represents many of the dancers at Rick's, a club on Lake City Way.

"Otherwise, it would simply be a case of partying on the public dollar."

That's not happening, said Lt. Eric Sano, who supervises the Police Department's vice unit.


Lt. Eric Sano, head of the vice unit, says he has concerns with a couple of the 30 arrest reports reviewed by the P-I.
"This is not a bunch of guys going in thinking this is my chance to get a free feel or a free peek," he said. "That's not the case at all."

But police reports stemming from two recent major vice operations, leading to the arrests of 22 dancers, raise concerns about overzealous police work. The raids, which had officers buying 36 lap dances at $20 to $40 apiece, occurred Dec. 13 at Rick's and March 2 at Déjà Vu Showgirls on First Avenue across from Pike Place Market.

In a dozen of the 30 reports reviewed by the P-I, officers described how they allowed their hands to be placed on the dancers' breasts or buttocks. In 11 reports, dancers fondled the officers' genitals through their clothing while performing.

In seven cases, at least two officers bought lap dances from the same woman on the same night.

It's impossible to say how many lap dances individual officers have purchased because their names are redacted from their reports to protect their identities. In 2005, a Seattle police detective said he had purchased 300 lap dances during a five-year tenure in vice in a report to the City Council on strip-club enforcement.

Police say that they're trying to crack down on increasing prostitution inside clubs' dim VIP lounges and that, as dances get dirtier, officers are forced to play along to protect their cover.

If a dancer initiates some touching or fondling, the officer may not be able to avoid it. But officers are prohibited from engaging in sexual acts such as intercourse or kissing and fondling dancers' breasts, Sano said.

"If you just sit there with your hands tucked at your sides, they're going to know you're a cop," Sano said.

But they shouldn't actively "be reaching up and grabbing those parts of the body that are deemed to be private," he said.

The vice unit borrows officers from other units for incognito work in strip clubs because many dancers already know regular vice detectives. Volunteers come from the department's narcotics unit, anti-crime teams and patrol, as long as they've completed undercover training.

After being questioned by the P-I, Sano reviewed some of the stripper-related arrest reports and said he had concerns with a couple of them.

One officer, who Sano said was inexperienced in undercover work, said in his report that he grabbed one dancer's breasts several times. With another dancer, he wrote in his report, "I grabbed her buttocks with both hands and kept them there throughout the dance."

A second officer, also not a regular vice cop, said he undid his belt, enabling the dancer to unzip his pants and rub his genitals through his underwear. She then grabbed his penis under his shorts before he could stop her hand, according to his report.

Both officers' conduct appears to go too far, but taken into context of what they're investigating, might not be as bad as it sounds. However, other vice supervisors will be notified to ensure no excessive conduct happens in the future, Sano said.

Sano said the detective who bought four lap dances from the same suspect was justified because after the first two, he thought the suspect might offer sex for money because she was talking "dirty," although she ultimately declined his proposition. That officer is a veteran vice officer, he said.

Assistant Chief Nick Metz, who oversees the Investigations Bureau, said the department would review its undercover policies and training -- especially for vice officers on loan from other units -- to ensure they know exactly how far they should go without compromising integrity.

"Honestly, I don't feel that there were any inappropriate actions on the officers' parts," Metz said. "They were forthcoming about what they were doing and very detailed in their descriptions ... and I certainly don't feel the officers tried to hide anything," he said.

Guidelines vary between police departments nationwide with regular strip-club enforcement. Houston police can allow some "physical contact" without intercourse, while city police in Tampa, Fla., can disrobe but not touch private parts.

Seattle officers don't expose themselves in vice cases, unless the deputy chief approves it as part of a larger investigation. But street prostitutes often ask an undercover officer to expose himself to prove he's not a cop, Sano said.

In a number of the police reports reviewed by the P-I, undercover officers said they avoided sexual contact.

But some strippers say police no longer show what used to be their most common tell.


Lindsey's cat watches her prepare for Rick's. Lindsey says vice cops will grab "your boobs and they'll take you to jail whether you knock their hands away or not."
"You used to be able to pick them out because they were the ones who wouldn't touch you or look at you," said Lindsey, a six-year veteran dancer who was at Rick's during the December raid but wasn't arrested. "Now, it's harder. ... They'll sit there and grab hold of your boobs and they'll take you to jail whether you knock their hands away or not."

Rick's was the site of the largest recent raid, in which 13 dancers and one manager were hauled off to jail, mostly for minor violations of the adult entertainment ordinance. Three were charged with prostitution.

Police frequently cite Rick's as a den of illicit sex, where condoms litter the men's restroom. The club's owner, Frank Colacurcio Sr., and his son, Frank Jr., were at the center of the "Strippergate" scandal and have long been targets of law enforcement.

Dancers working as police informants say customers increasingly expect sex and that clubs encourage the behavior by building private booths and VIP lounges, according to detectives' reports.

Levy, who is Rick's attorney, thought December's raid was heavy-handed. Police used seven undercover officers and shut down the club for three hours. He said he found the timing suspect, given that weeks earlier voters had repealed a controversial "4-foot" rule regulating distances between customers and the entertainment.

Even without a 4-foot rule, lap dances in Seattle are legal only if the stripper isn't touching the customer. An intimate frottage session or a dancer flashing her breasts while off-stage is still illegal.

Officers are more credible in court if they can testify that something happened directly to them, as opposed to having observed it, said Jon Gould, a professor of law at Virginia's George Mason University.

But police should avoid appearing as active participants in illegal activity, which could hurt their cases in court if a defendant argues entrapment, he said.

"The other question," Gould said, "is what kind of standard do the people of Seattle want to have their Police Department to be held to?"

In some of the strip-club cases, officers got lap dances from the same woman because of miscommunication, Sano said. Officers are instructed to avoid "double-dipping" because it wastes time and money, he said.

That happened in seven cases reviewed by the P-I, including one involving a Déjà Vu dancer who was investigated by three undercover officers -- first by a lone male officer and then by a female officer and male sergeant who bought a lap dance while posing as "friends."

The vice unit aims for one strip-club sting operation a month, depending on budgets and caseloads. Detectives also regularly inspect the clubs to ensure all performers are licensed and of legal age, Sano said.

City Councilman Nick Licata, chairman of the city's public safety committee, said he'd much rather see police focus on bigger problems, such as street prostitution. He said he found some of the officers' reports gratuitous.

"I've said publicly I don't see any reason why any officer needs to get 300 lap dances to get a feel for the place," Licata said. "I think it's a misuse of resources."

Of 103 cases filed in Municipal Court since 2003, only eight resulted in convictions, usually with a deferred jail term.

Only five exotic dancers have been charged with prostitution.

Most dancers are first-time offenders who enter a pretrial diversion program. If they pay $75, perform community service and stay crime-free for three months, the charges disappear.

A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Prostitution, a gross misdemeanor, is punishable by up to a year in jail.

Sano said his priority since taking over the vice unit is focusing on pimps who exploit juvenile prostitutes and not strip clubs. "That's what the vice unit gets paid to do," he said. "We're here to enforce the civility ordinances of the city of Seattle."




http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/315278_lapdance11.html

TinyEvel
05-12-2007, 01:04 AM
I would do it. As long as shiny sweatpants were part of the SEAPD uniform.

:whackit:

Fishpicker
05-12-2007, 02:13 AM
what a waste. if they really wanted to crack down on prostitution they should've gone to the escort services and private dance places that are usually outside city limits. plus if its police doing the operation outside city limits, they would need permission from the sheriff. that would add another layer of oversight.

Fruit Ninja
05-12-2007, 03:09 AM
is she hot? i got 20 bucks for a lap dance.

boogblaster
05-12-2007, 08:11 AM
We used to bounce them frickin under-cover punks out of the clubs I worked in ....

Simplex3
05-12-2007, 08:30 AM
Geez, I feel safer already knowing that some guy might not get laid tonight and a women won't get paid for it.

I still don't see how this is any different than a date. You pick up the woman, you buy her a bunch of stuff, then she's willing to have sex with you.