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HPD presses lawmakers to keep undercover sex exemption

By Sam Eifling

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:27 p.m. HST, Mar 20, 2014

Honolulu police officers have urged lawmakers to keep an exemption in state law that allows undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes during investigations, touching off a heated debate.

Authorities say they need the legal protection to catch lawbreakers in the act. Critics, including human trafficking experts and other police, say it's unnecessary and can further victimize sex workers, many of whom have been forced into the trade.

Police haven't said how often — or even if — they use the provision. But when they asked legislators to preserve it, they made assurances that internal policies and procedures are in place to prevent officers from taking advantage of it.

But expert Derek Marsh says the exemption is "antiquated at best" and that police can easily do their jobs without it.

"It doesn't help your case, and at worst you further traumatize someone. And do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?" asked Marsh, who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue.

A Hawaii bill cracking down on prostitution was originally written to do away with the sex exemption for officers on duty, but it was amended to restore that protection after police testimony. The revised proposal has passed the state House and will go before a Senate committee Friday.

It's not immediately clear whether there are similar provisions in place elsewhere either at the state or department policy level. But advocates were shocked that Hawaii provides an exemption to prostitution laws for police, suggesting it's an invitation for misconduct.

"Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution," said Melissa Farley, the executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education. Farley said that in places without such police protections "women who have escaped prostitution" commonly report being coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested or harassed.

The Hawaii bill aims to ratchet up penalties on johns and pimps while leaving the punishment for selling sex as a petty misdemeanor.

During recent testimony, Honolulu police said the sex exemption protects investigations and should remain in place. They say police aren't abusing their authority by taking advantage of sex workers, and strict internal controls prohibit misconduct.

"The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential," Honolulu Police Maj. Jerry Inouye told the House Judiciary Committee. "Because if prostitution suspects, pimps and other people are privy to that information, they're going to know exactly how far the undercover officer can and cannot go."

Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Inouye's testimony convinced him to amend the proposal.

"It's a really murky area," said Rhoads, who represents a district that includes Honolulu's Chinatown, a longstanding epicenter of street prostitution. "I was reluctant to interfere in something that they face all the time. If they think it's necessary to not have it in the statute, this is one area where I did defer to them and say, 'I hope you're not having sex with prostitutes.'"

Critics say the police perspective is off base. Lauren Hersh, a former prosecuting attorney who runs the global trafficking program of the women's advocacy group Equality Now, said the risk of re-victimizing a sex worker, who may already have been trafficked, should make sex during an investigation off-limits.

"I can understand you're in a drug den, and you have a gun to your head and someone says 'snort this,'" Hersh said, acknowledging the gray areas associated with undercover police work. But the sex exemption in Hawaii is "so dissimilar from that circumstance on so many levels."

There have been instances of police being accused of victimizing sex workers across the nation. In Philadelphia, a former officer is on trial facing charges of raping two prostitutes after forcing them at gunpoint to take narcotics. A former West Sacramento, Calif., officer is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of raping prostitutes in his police cruiser while on patrol. And last year in Massachusetts, a former police officer pleaded guilty to extorting sex from prostitutes he threatened with arrest.

Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he knew of no reason to believe Honolulu police are out of line.

"All allegations of misconduct are investigated and the appropriate disciplinary action taken," said Michelle Yu, Honolulu police spokeswoman, in an email.

It's not clear, however, what the punishment would be. The disclosure laws for police misconduct in Hawaii make it impossible to know if an on-duty officer had faced discipline or accusations of having sex with a prostitute.

Vice officers who investigate prostitution haven't been accused of sexual wrongdoing in recent memory, Yu said. A parole officer in 2011 was fired after being convicted of sexual assault against a prostitute, she said.

Skeptics, such as Roger Young, a retired special agent who for more than 20 years worked sex crimes for the FBI from Las Vegas and has trained vice squads around the country, remain unconvinced.

Young said Thursday, "I don't know of any state or federal law that allows any law enforcement officer undercover to penetrate or do what this law is allowing."

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soundofreason wrote:
Are ya kidding me? Are they allowed to take drugs when arresting a drug dealer? Knock off a liquor store when investigating burglaries?
on March 20,2014 | 06:56PM
kekelaward wrote:
Possibly why so many people want to get on the DUI teams....
on March 20,2014 | 07:37PM
kiragirl wrote:
This is hilarious. But nothing surprises me anymore.
on March 20,2014 | 07:06PM
peanutgallery wrote:
What a fricken' krock. Only HPD.
on March 20,2014 | 07:33PM
BigdogMD wrote:
No really, just allow us to have sex legally with prostitutes. We promise, our internal policies don't let us but no, we won't tell you what our policies are. Just don't make it illegal for cops to have sex with prostitutes. Pleeeeeease?
on March 20,2014 | 10:20PM
Barefootie wrote:
HPD has it fundamentally wrong, you do not break the law, in order to enforce the law!
on March 20,2014 | 07:35PM
mokuman wrote:
How do their wives and children feel about it?
on March 20,2014 | 07:37PM
Uncleart66 wrote:
So sad. They don't get it.
on March 20,2014 | 07:43PM
islandboy1562 wrote:
HPD is totally off base with this and Karl Rhoads is from another planet if he believes HPD.
on March 20,2014 | 07:48PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Karl will fall for pretty much anything..
on March 20,2014 | 08:02PM
2NDC wrote:
Rhoads is a hypocrite. I've seen him engaging the services of "street walkers" behind Long's Drugs on Kukui Street on numerous occasions.
on March 20,2014 | 09:05PM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
OUCH!!!! Rhoads say it ain't so???
on March 20,2014 | 09:11PM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Your anonymous, unsubstantiated accusation against Rep. Rhoads is disgusting.
on March 20,2014 | 09:28PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Almost libel.
on March 20,2014 | 11:03PM
mokuman wrote:
Oops I made a PC mistake, it should state wives/husbands since women can work vice also.
on March 20,2014 | 07:54PM
Akhmed_PKC wrote:
Tell you what Chief, your police officers can keep the sex exemption once you start issuing concealed carry permits to those who qualify.
on March 20,2014 | 09:08PM
username_required wrote:
Wonder what Maafala thinks of this, especially if his brethren are investigating those 6-footers in Chinatown.
on March 20,2014 | 09:24PM
localguy wrote:
And what does the HPD officer tell his wife about his having sex with other men/women. Honey, I had to do it, part of the job? HPD is now the laughing stock of law enforcement. Give me a break.
on March 20,2014 | 09:45PM
RandolphW wrote:
Hopefully, the prostitutes will start carrying a box of Dromedary Dates in their purses, and say they were not soliciting prostitution, and instead, say they were only selling the dates by offering the Johns "dates".
on March 20,2014 | 09:45PM
rayhawaii wrote:
Any job openings?
on March 20,2014 | 10:15PM
GorillaSmith wrote:
This story reads like something from The Onion. Are these people able to maintain a straight face when they argue in favor of cops having sex with hookers?
on March 20,2014 | 10:22PM
Maunawiliboy wrote:
on March 20,2014 | 10:23PM
onlyaloha wrote:
The fact is the occupation that frequents protitutes the most is police officers. Google it, it is true.
on March 20,2014 | 10:53PM
st1d wrote:
constantly probing for hard evidence that will stand up in court testimony, officers are committed to exposing prostitutes wherever and whenever the short arm of justice rises to duty.

when gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back at you.

take care not to become the monster you battle.

on March 20,2014 | 11:27PM
st1d wrote:
oops. should be "when you gaze . . ."
on March 20,2014 | 11:29PM
Uncleart66 wrote:
Can't wait to see we're Kirk will get the money to pay for the happy hookers. New tax on churches ? All Over the nation news. Everyone is laughing at us.
on March 20,2014 | 11:36PM
Wazdat wrote:
Are you kidding me? This state has some TERRIBLE elected leaders. What a JOKE !!!
on March 21,2014 | 03:50AM
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