Updated, Friday, noon, EST
The Palm Springs Police Department contacted Instinct Magazine after we published news of a gay-targeted sting that took place in the idyllic California community last year. The PSPD hopes to clarify its actions and spread the word of a new tolerant policy it's placing into effect following the scourge of bad press it's received over the incident.
First, and perhaps most importantly, the PSPD pledges to no longer use "decoys" or lewd conduct enforcement operations in GLBT-targeted stings. "There's a better way to do things," admits Police Chief David Dominguez when asked about the city's use of undercover officers targeting gay cruising areas.
Other changes to the globally known gay-haven's police force include ensuring more officers are placed in well-marked, official vehicles, and adding "better lighting" as well as motion-sensitive lighting to the notorious Warm Sands neighborhood, the site of the city's controversial stings.
"We want to move forward and make sure we have better lines of communication with the community and better methods of discouraging this criminal behavior," said Chief Dominguez.
The city's openly gay mayor, Steve Pouget, applauded the policy-enhancements. "The chief's action items are a step in the right direction."
Do those of you who live or visit Palm Springs feel satisfied with the damage control over this PR nightmare that the police department are taking?
Palm Springs, once the fairy-est city west of the Miss. Issippi (the famed St. Louis drag queen), might be in damage control after an article appearing today in the SF Gate reveals that the P.S. police force may have engaged in anti-gay setup stings, likely in the Warm Sands area. Such publicity does not bode well for a city that heavily relies on GLBT tourism dollars.
Not only did the stings (which evoke memories of the pre-Stonewall era) focus solely on Palm Springs’ gay community (estimated as high as 40% of the city’s population), but those who were arrested under the archaic setup will be registered on the nation’s sex-offender’s list for their lifetimes. Heterosexuals arrested under similar circumstances would never be given such a punishment!
Reports the SF Gate:
Last summer, Palm Springs police used undercover officers to arrest 24 men in a gay neighborhood for allegedly trying to engage the officers in sex. While few in the gay community defend anyone having public sex - whether gay or straight - the anger is over the unusual charges in the case: The men are charged under Section 290(c) of the California Penal Code, making those who are convicted register as sex offenders for life, their names added to a police database.
That charge is essentially a life sentence, defense lawyers say, and has never been used against straight couples arrested for similar activity in Palm Springs.
The new scrutiny of the Palm Springs Police Department also reveals that there isn't a single openly gay male police officer among the 99 officers on the force (there is only one open lesbian), despite the city's reputation as a gay mecca.
"A typical scenario," Tansey says, "would be a couple of cops, who were dressed in tank tops, would walk around grabbing their crotches and staring at the defendants' crotches saying, 'Show me what you got. Show me what you got.' In no case did they come upon any man already having sex." Tansey adds that "in many cases the defendants were reluctant to participate and wanted to go back to a room or someplace more private and were coaxed to stay and allegedly expose themselves by the officers."
The economic fallout on the city is not lost on City Manager David Ready, who says, "Palm Springs is very concerned and spends a significant amount of resources on tourism as our driving economic factor. So anything that affects tourism is of great concern to the city. That being said, the chief is doing his internal review of this sting operation, and he will be making recommendations on our policy going forward."
As investigators piece together the stings and those arrested fight to not spend their lives on sex offenders lists, Palm Springs tourism officials and city managers scramble to ensure this story doesn't get out while the city's police force is undergoing tolerance and diversity training. This isn't exactly the best time (considering the impact the economy is taking on cities at the local-level) for what was once renowned as the gayest city in the country to be dealing with such a homophobic controversy....