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Police Commission Revives Plan for Hands-Off Policy at L.A. Strip Clubs

The panel backs a proposal to require dancers to stay at least six feet from customers.

October 12, 2005|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

Will the six-foot rule send Los Angeles' adult dance clubs six feet under?

The controversial no-touch regulation, which first roiled city politics two years ago, was revived Tuesday when the Los Angeles Police Commission recommended passage of a measure that would effectively end the practice of nude or lightly clad dancers writhing in customers' laps.

The Los Angeles City Council first passed a rule in 2003 to keep exotic dancers six feet from their customers, then repealed it after strip club owners threatened to put the issue on a citywide ballot.

At Councilman Jose Cardenas' request, the commission took up the rule again Tuesday. In addition to the six-foot separation, the ordinance would ban patrons from personally tipping dancers and restrict performers to raised stages with railings.

Police Det. Ben Jones told the commissioners that the ordinance was needed because some adult dance halls were hotbeds of prostitution, workplace violence and other crimes, and enforcement within them was difficult. Jones, whose testimony was punctuated by a few guffaws, told of officers arriving at clubs to find used condoms littering the floors.

Current law allows a nude dancer "to go into a dark corner with a patron and sit on his lap, and for him to grab her buttocks and move up and down and there is no way to know if there is prostitution going on unless we go up to them and separate them," Jones told commissioners.

Attorney John Weston, spokesman for some 20 proprietors who are fighting the measure, called the proposal unnecessary and predicted it would waste police time. "If there's prostitution, arrest those involved," he told the commission.

Restricting dancers to a stage is "like saying all television has to go back to black-and-white," Weston said.

And Tut Hayes, one of the commission's most devoted gadflies, advised law enforcement to focus on prostitution on the streets rather than in the clubs.

Since the city's last go-round with adult-club owners, a federal appeals court upheld a La Habra ordinance requiring exotic performers to stay two feet from their customers. Assistant City Atty. Michael Klekner told the commission that Los Angeles' proposed measure had a good shot at passing legal muster because "you are not regulating dance, you are regulating physical contact. That is conduct that is not protected ... by the Constitution."

Commission President John Mack called the proposal "a well-crafted ordinance," and board members voted to recommend it and pass it to the City Council's public safety subcommittee.

Weston vowed afterward to continue his fight. Industry representatives will pursue another referendum and may challenge the Cardenas proposal in court, he said.

In other news, Assistant Police Chief George Gascon said that the department would form a working group to examine the reporting of crime data after what he acknowledged was "confusion" in its accounting of assault data.

The department changed its accounting methods, resulting in an artificially low number for simple assaults that produced the appearance of a large drop in crime. The reduced number, in turn, contributed to the department's overall 28% drop in violent crime.

The department's website continues to boast of a 28% decrease in violent crime in the city

Gascon told the commission the department also has uncovered problems in its reporting of auto thefts, although he said he does not believe that this has led to an exaggeration of the drop in crime. He said the internal working group "will look at our crime-reporting procedures and try to clean them up."

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