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Policy on Lewd-Conduct Stakeouts Unveiled : Law enforcement: Suggestive gestures in public restrooms would be prohibited. Gay activists applaud the proposed change.

March 26, 1992|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Vice officers on the lookout for lewd conduct in public restrooms may not initiate the conduct or touch themselves suggestively under a new policy drafted this week by the Long Beach Police Department.

After years of complaints that undercover detectives falsely arrested scores of gay men on lewd-conduct charges, department administrators have drafted a policy that sets guidelines for officers on stakeouts.

Gay activists and attorneys said for years that officers patrolling restrooms at Marine Stadium, the beach and some city parks encouraged lewd activity by feigning sexual interest and making inappropriate gestures.

Activists, who worked with the Police Department to create the guidelines, said the policy is a significant step in improving relations with the city's estimated 40,000-member gay community, one of the largest in Southern California.

"This was the one thing we couldn't make progress on," gay activist Rick Rosen said. "(Yet) this was the way gays and lesbians knew the Police Department. They either knew someone who had been falsely arrested or they knew stories of people falsely arrested."

Although attorneys who represent people charged with lewd conduct said they have documented hundreds of cases in which men have been falsely arrested by Long Beach undercover detectives, police and city officials deny that officers acted inappropriately.

"We never had a policy in writing that was detailed, but from our perspective, officers have been following the law," said Deputy City Atty. Michael J. Mais, who helped draft the guidelines incorporating language from a 1979 state Supreme Court case.

"It was important to do it because the gay community perceived a problem," Mais said, emphasizing that officers have not lured gay men into lewd activity.

Cmdr. Dale L. Brown, who oversees the vice detail and helped draft the policy, agreed with Mais, adding that meetings with gay activists and attorneys since August have "opened up lines of communication between the Police Department and the gay and lesbian community."

The policy, which is expected to be approved by Police Chief William C. Ellis within weeks, will be the subject of training sessions for all vice officers, Brown said. Gay activists and attorneys will be invited to one of the sessions.

Meanwhile, Rosen said that One in Long Beach Inc., which runs the city's largest lesbian and gay service center, is seeking a grant to begin a safe-sex education drive, which would include sending trained volunteers to patrol public restrooms to discourage lewd conduct.

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