An article in today's San Francisco Chronicle questions the gay-friendly reputation of Palm Springs, at least as far as law enforcement in that city goes. The criticism stems mainly from recent sting operations that have targeted gay men.
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. Adding fuel to the community anger is surveillance tape shot inside a patrol car during the sting. One officer can be heard using an anti-gay slur, while another officer laughs.
The lawyer for several of the men arrested, Roger Tansey, tells the Chronicle what the sting operation consisted of:
"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."
City officials fear a possible boycott from the LGBT community and, of course, a potential financial hit for the city has sparked a review of the stings.
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."
The Chronicle also points out that the Palm Springs Police Department has only one openly gay person, a lesbian, on the force.