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Bad Conduct 

LAPD’s gay-entrapment policy wastes police time and destroys lives

Wednesday, Apr 26 2000
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It‘s a miserable LAPD practice that antedates Jack Webb and Dragnet, and it’s at least as antiquated: sending cops in civvies to entrap and entice men who like other men by posing as like-minded persons.

But the Los Angeles Police Department -- perpetually proclaiming itself short of law-enforcement personnel and now embroiled in a spreading and costly ethics scandal -- continues to this very day the custom of detailing officers in plain clothes to entrap gay males in restrooms and other public places to instigate or report sexual activities involving no exchange of money. And until just recently, there appeared to be no hope of ending the tradition -- enforced under the California Penal Code 647a, prohibiting lewd conduct -- which many gays and others have styled wanton entrapment.

It‘s something straight out of the corrupt L.A. of Hollywood Confidential. But it continues, indeed, to destroy many careers and even lives; witness the recent case of Cesar Portillo, a reasonably strong candidate for the Hollywood-Eastside Assembly seat now being vacated by Antonio Villaraigosa.

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Certainly, his candidacy was overshadowed by that of his competitor, City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. But it was annihilated by the late-in-the-day disclosure of his decade-old arrest for soliciting a plainclothes officer, a charge which Portillo (perhaps unwisely) had declined to fight. (Less than a week before the election, Portillo called a news conference to disclose news of his arrest. He said Goldberg had been spreading word of his arrest, a charge she vehemently denied.) Portillo’s arrest ended a promising public-school teaching career, just as it came back to bedevil him toward the end of his Assembly campaign this year. Portillo denies having expressed any interest in the officer, but what if he had? And had the folie a deux been a heterosexual encounter, what charge -- if any -- would have been brought?

This is where attorney Ken Miele of the Gay and Lesbian Action Alliance came into the picture four years ago. Miele decided that this sort of thing had been going on for long enough, particularly since homosexual behavior hasn‘t been a statutory crime in these parts for a generation or more. So he decided to compile a docket, urging city officials that the practice be ended.

Miele says: ”For decades, thousands of men have been accused of lewd-conduct violations simply because they are perceived as gay and because of the LAPD’s discriminatory conduct, which is never enforced against similar heterosexual conduct.“

It‘s nearly two years since Miele and his alliance took their first petition to the Police Commission. The document -- called ”The Blue Petition“ -- presented, Miele said, ”30 years of discriminatory enforcement activities against the gay community.“ It came with dozens of attachments of cases in which men, often guilty of no more than showing interest in another, were prosecuted.

Nothing much happened, although the police allegedly took a cursory look at some 2,000 647a cases. So this month, Miele took another, more assertive petition to the Police Commission, calling for ”an independent investigation of LAPD lewd-conduct arrest practices.“ And this time, perhaps because of good timing, his plea was heard.

It was a historic moment, if you go for such things; the commission finally voted, unanimously, to review the precise practices Miele had brought to its attention two years before. In some ways, the members’ vote may have been the biggest local advance in gay rights since the local legalization of nonheterosexual, consensual sex. But it didn‘t get much reportage, probably because the commission, on the same day, voted to set up its own Rampart-inspired police-review panel, the ”Little Christopher Commission.“ As Miele’s report points out, study of lewd-conduct arrests (many of them within the troubled Rampart Division) suggests that the LAPD has a policy that basically ignores the laws that have legalized homosexuality in this state and city.

The only daily paper to report the commission‘s consensus was the legally inclined Daily Journal. Reporter Chris Ford noted that the commissioner putting Miele’s proposal through the Police Commission in the form of a motion was none other than Raquelle de la Rocha. The commissioner has now and then been criticized in this column, so it‘s only fair to note that she did good in this cause. ”It couldn’t have gone as well without her,“ Miele said. ”She took me aside, and we seriously discussed the issues before the commission voted.“

Miele‘s report asserts that all or nearly all LAPD lewd-conduct cases are decided purely on the word of the arresting officers: a perfect opportunity for police (shades of Rampart!) ”to embellish or fictionalize“ reports to justify arrest -- and conviction. Even if there are witnesses at the scene, they are rarely called.

Further, while the report contends that the use of male officers to solicit lewd advances shows that the police are overwhelmingly targeting gay men, a more central issue seems to be that careless or dubious lewd-conduct arrest reports may have become a malign tradition, comparable to the other bad arrests -- particularly those involving gang members -- disclosed so far in the Rampart scandal. As of this date, however, Miele claims that the LAPD has refused to release any lewd-conduct arrest reports to gay advocates, either in response to court orders or in official public-access requests. Indeed, not only the individual arrest records, but the overall complete file of lewd-conduct arrests, appear to be a disgraceful mess. As Miele points out, LAPD officials have readily sworn that the exact number of arrest reports itself isn’t known. For that matter, the names and addresses of many or most of the alleged citizen complainants are similarly not recorded.

Miele makes another important point: that even in other instances, the LAPD tends to be less lenient toward gays than straight people caught in the same minor illegalities; for instance, his report contends, straight couples caught in parks after closing hours are likely to receive at most a warning.

Gays, on the other hand, get cited.

The report goes on and on. And the police have heard many of its complaints before. But as of last week, it appeared that the Police Commission, as a task in its current, broad housekeeping agenda, may act on these complaints. Let‘s hope that, if only to keep themselves out of more trouble, the various LAPD divisions cut down on premeditated entrapment of gays until the commission makes its decision. From what I read and hear, even the cops don’t like this particular assignment.

Duplicity Rides the Mails

It may not seem that there‘s anything wrong with giving workers in Santa Monica a living wage. It’s just that those who are backing a new ballot measure -- touted in several fancy mailers -- don‘t really want to be generous at all.

Indeed, the so-called Santa Monicans for a Living Wage are trying to sneak by their cheap measure to keep the City Council from helping a far larger category of lower-salaried workers in the city: those in the plush, big-earning resort industry. The AstroTurf grassroots group behind the mailers and petition now circulating in Santa Monica apparently is funded by the hotel and resort businesses. Its proposal (which needs 8,000 signatures to go on the ballot) would raise wages from $5.75 an hour to $9.46 an hour, without health benefits, only for people who work for companies receiving at least $25,000 in city contracts.

The measure’s true purpose lies in its poison-pill provision. This would forbid the Santa Monica City Council from ever passing a living-wage proposal of its own. And that council is now on the verge of acting on a proposal to give a living wage to minimum-wage hotel workers (in establishments employing more than 50 people) in the city‘s tony beach zone of up to $10.69 an hour.

This is what the so-called ”Living Wage“ artists are trying to stop with the ”wage proposal“ and its poison-pill provision. They’re also backed by the Chamber of Commerce, which has never previously suggested a city living wage -- certainly not before the local City Council. The Chamber, the businesses and the hotel owners are fronting one of the lowest scams ever seen in local government. They deserve to lose their petition drive. And the respect of everyone.

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