Crime | Palm Springs

Is The Palm Springs Police Department Anti-Gay?

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.

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  1. It's in Riverside county, which voted 64.7% for prop 8 and therefore against gay marriage.

    Gays delude themselves if they think that the inhabitants (! - not the visitors) are gay friendly.

    Posted by: galore | Jul 18, 2010 8:53:44 AM

  2. Uh, isn't this entrapment? If the officer(s) in question were the one's soliciting or coercing, which is what this appears to be, isn't that illegal?

    Additionally, how can you become a registered sex offender, if you're not soliciting underage sex? Frankly, it sounds like this law goes way too far. Unintended consequences of trying to crack down child sex abuse anyone?

    Posted by: Keith | Jul 18, 2010 9:04:01 AM

  3. What is the local gay business community doing about this disgrace by their police department? Aren't they heavily dependent on gay visitors to support the many gay resorts, restaurants, bars, etc.?? Seems to me that if they have a local gay business organization, they should be screaming bloody murder to the police chief, city manager, mayor...everyone in city government who has a say-so in this despicable behavior by the police. If these arrests aren't text book definitions of "entrapment", then what is? I doubt I'll be spending any of my tourism dollars in Palm Springs until they get this BS figured out.

    Posted by: Rob | Jul 18, 2010 9:35:24 AM

  4. Thanks for posting this. Just scratched Palm Springs off my vacation list. Hello, San Fran!

    Posted by: Kurt | Jul 18, 2010 10:32:18 AM

  5. seriously - we won't be going to PS til this is straightened out either!

    Posted by: RexTrek | Jul 18, 2010 10:39:14 AM

  6. 2 years ago, it was Fire Island and Provincetown with the public sex stings. This year, Palm Springs, with that special added dash of going on the registry - being pretty much dropped from life for arranging consensual adult sex. So, what's up? Rich assholes buying condos with their Bush tax cuts and deciding to remake the places they grace with their presence? Bored law-enforcement officials? Land of the free: you can accumulate all the primo real estate you like, but don't do a double-take at that cop in a tank top on your way to pick up cucumbers and creme-fraiche. Faggot.

    Posted by: Name2 | Jul 18, 2010 10:55:31 AM

  7. I was gay bashed in Palm Springs in 2001. The cops and EMTs treated me like I had somehow brought it upon myself. I ended up signing a release so that I could drive myself to the Emergency Room.

    Posted by: Chris Rico | Jul 18, 2010 10:55:47 AM

  8. Put pressure on the mayor, who is running for a high profile congressional seat to do something.

    Maybe withhold political donations to him, until he does something to solve this problem.

    Posted by: Matt Munson | Jul 18, 2010 11:28:19 AM

  9. I have a feeling if it was a straight couple caught, any gay officer would be pressured to let them go because it's only "natural" that straights want to have sex in public. Whatever.

    This should be a lesson to all of us: just because a city claims to be gay-friendly doesn't mean it is. Take your tourist dollars elsewhere, this city has become a conservative haven.

    Posted by: Terry | Jul 18, 2010 11:46:53 AM

  10. The equivalent of these arrests would not be to catch straight couples having sex. A better parallel would be to send attractive female cops in bikinis to a quiet corner of a Fort Lauderdale beach, wait for a frat boy on vacation to come along, rub her breasts and ask him to "show me what you've got." ... Then register him as a sex offender for life.
    It is clearly both entrapment for cops to coax people into doing something that they would not normally do. It is discrimination to target only certain communities (in this case gays) when ANY other community of men chosen could easily net similar results. And it is outrageous in the first place for the response to the cop's request to be illegal, let alone such a big deal.

    Posted by: GregV | Jul 18, 2010 12:11:29 PM

  11. If as a gay man, or any other person, really, you are engaging in sexual activity in public, you are taking your chances with the law. Are these supposed "victims" unable to resist the burly sexual persuasion of the PSPD? It is against the law to expose yourself/engage in public sexual activity - public sex is not a gay right, guys. Before everyone jumps all over me; I am a gay guy. During my youth I took many chances in public- it's not worth it.

    Posted by: Robie | Jul 18, 2010 1:44:46 PM

  12. @ROBIE: Did you read the original article?

    There was no public sex in question - in any of the 24 cases. Men were cajoled into "showing" what they got, and find themselves looking at a life on the Z-list for exposure. GregV's comment pretty much sums up the whole sorry episode.

    Posted by: Name2 | Jul 18, 2010 2:00:36 PM

  13. The sex offender registry needs to be reassessed. There are plenty of people there who have no business being on there...there are real sex offenders out there--not the nineteen year old with a sixteen year old girlfriend or boyfriend. That's america, though...the truly heinous criminals get away because we're keeping all eyes out for the little guy who's doing nothing wrong (e.g., recent spate of gay bar raids).

    Posted by: TANK | Jul 18, 2010 2:25:09 PM

  14. Many in the gay community have become so accustomed to anonymous hook-up sex that when a complete stranger walks up to them and requests that they whip out their shit, apparently they don't think twice about it.

    Is it entrapment? For sure. But could it be avoided with just a little bit of common sense on the part of the 'victims'? Yeah.

    These folks are getting good at using our own culture against us. Just think about your actions and don't trust random strangers. The cops target the gays all the time.

    Posted by: Daniel | Jul 18, 2010 2:27:36 PM

  15. Hit the police where it hurts - every doughnut shop should tell them they're business is not welcome! What is truly despicable about this entrapment is that the only policemen who enjoy this kind of work (including sitting in bathroom stalls in airports looking for "wide stances") are homophobes and self-hating closeted gays.

    A non-cooperation message also needs to be sent to the D.A.'s office and voter actions considered...

    Posted by: Hue-Man | Jul 18, 2010 3:11:44 PM

  16. The problem here is that there is a selective enforcement of existing law for gay people- no similar 'straight' offender has ever required lifetime registration on offender list.

    2nd... the area of PS where this took place is the center of the gay resorts; very quiet & warm, dark streets at night w/ a 'vacation' atmosphere. I'm sure people didn't need much cajoling... however, WHY on earth is this a focus of PS Police in the first place? Who sets the strategy for the PS Police Force? Why haven't the charges already been dropped?
    It will be a HUGE money burden for the city to defend this selective enforcement. They should cut their losses and stick to speeding tix.

    Posted by: stephen | Jul 18, 2010 3:50:06 PM

  17. @NAME2- I did read the article, and yes, you are correct that no sex occurred, however exposing yourself in public is considered (legally) a sex crime- ya do it, you're taking your chances. While I disagree with this designation for this activity, until the law changes or is amended the consequences exist. I disagree with GregV in that the police aren't coaxing people into something they wouldn't normally do- we as gay men are making it too easy for them to coax us into something we WOULD do. I do agree with GregV related to his point of selective targeting being discriminatory.

    Posted by: Robie | Jul 18, 2010 4:28:20 PM

  18. "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.""

    Robie: The above quote may clarify what I meant when I said that some are being entrapped into something they might otherwise never have done.
    Some of these men may well have never pulled out their penis in a clothing-required public place ever before in their lives, and might never have encountered so much resistance to the idea of going somewhere more private.
    But sex drive is a strong motivator, and having someone attractive in a secluded spot pleading with them could turn a high proprtion of any group of men into so-called "sex offenders."

    Imagine if white police officers were to go into quiet, almost traffic-free majority-black neighborhoods, plant themselves in the middle of the sidewalk and call to random black pedestrians, "Hey buddy! Good to see you! Come here for a second!" only to charge the pedestrian with jay-walking if they responded as planned.
    There would be a public uproar.
    The PS Police are predicting a response that a high number of any given group will have to a situation and then targeting one type of citizen for entrapment and arrest.

    Maybe gay people do have to hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior than is expected of anyone else in society just in order to survive, but no one should have to do this.

    Posted by: GregV | Jul 18, 2010 5:20:54 PM

  19. I have spent a LOT of $$$$ in PS on vacation in the past.

    That will change for the future.

    No more $$$ for Prick Springs until they get rid of the Christian Pricks.

    You should cancel the White party. That would get their attention.

    Posted by: Arthur | Jul 18, 2010 7:28:51 PM

  20. follow the $$$$. thats alwys the case.
    that sorry ass town needs some fresh loot.
    say goodbye to gay $ u creeps there.

    Posted by: tomy racatta | Jul 19, 2010 2:19:47 AM

  21. I've been there a couple times (once for a long weekend, once for a corporate retreat) and don't understand its appeal in any way. Too hot, too suburban, a dated vibe, and an environmental atrocity to boot (the amount of water wasted keeping the desert green is appalling).

    So good, now I never have to give a second thought about going back. Showing your dick in public makes you a lifelong sex offender? Anywhere, but especially in California? Abhorrent and unforgivable. If they don't drop all the charges immediately, I'd fully support a boycott.

    Aside to Tank: I find no inconsistency between my opposition to a Hawaii boycott and my support of one here. City-sanctioned entrapment of people that affects the rest of their lives bothers me a lot more than the expected vote of a sole Republican repeating past vetos. Palm Springs is a huge gay destination, so it will be pretty sad if local businesses can't fix this problem in a few days.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jul 19, 2010 3:24:57 AM

  22. I live near the gay resorts. The Cops ignore the nests of meth heads all over the city but they have no prob cruising right outside of the entrances to the gay clothing optional resorts to entrap and lure a lonely horny tourist. It's despicable considering you can't get a Palm Springs Cop to show up for an auto accident or a break in.

    Posted by: LG Wilson | Jul 19, 2010 4:46:50 AM

  23. Several years ago I was at a public beach and when I went to go to the restroom there was a man sitting on the wall outside. Normally I would think nothing of this as many times people will sit there either to wait for a friend or family member or just to cool off in the shade. As I approached the man exposed himself partially by opening the leg of his shorts and giving me an encouraging look. I ignored him and went into the restroom to take care of business. The man followed me in and stood behind me watching me as I peed. When I went to wash my hands he still watched then left before me. As I went past him again outside he was sitting in such a position that he was completely out of the leg of his shorts. I went over to him and could see the look he gave me as if he were succeeding in having an encounter. Much to his surprise I began to loudly verbally berate him for his disgusting behavior and reminded him that there were many children in the area. After a couple minutes of my verbal attack, not cursing at him but telling him how disgusting he was he stood up and began to address me. He was a local "undercover police" and he said he was going to arrest me. I asked him what for as I had not done anything wrong and it was he who was exposing himself to the public and I told him he could attempt to arrest me if he chose to as I was going to report his actions to the Sheriff anyway. (which I later did) He did not arrest me but he did go to his vehicle and leave as when anyone came by us to use the restrooms I would turn to them and tell them that this was a policeman and he was exposing himself to entrap others. I have found that when you see and even feel in some way that it may be entrapment, turn the tables on them and loudly berate them. If they attempt anything to encourage you to expose yourself or engage in some sexual practice and you think it might be someone in a law enforcement position call them out on it. Yell at them calling them a pervert. They will soon leave because you are acting as a concerned citizen. They cannot arrest you. But do not curse or touch them. After that first time on the beach I have done it to the entrapment officers in other cities. A few of my friends have also done it, and it works.
    I have a friend that is a county Sheriff, not a deputy but The County Sheriff. When I told him that I did this he stated that in too many instances the entrapment was not proper. He does encourage his officers to work at stopping the prostitution in towns in his county. However he says there are other ways to discourage outdoor sex than by setting up sting operations. He did not tell me to cease from my practice of busting up a sting that is obvious entrapment by berating the party who encourages an action or exposes themselves..

    Posted by: Bear | Jul 19, 2010 6:02:28 AM

  24. @ Bear: I heart you.

    I don't know if I'd have the balls to do what you did. I'd probably just ignore the guy showing me his dick. Or say something like, "Nice dick. Not interested, but nice dick all the same." and keep it moving.

    But you took a proactive stand and because of that, dearest Bear, I heart you.

    Posted by: Stephen | Jul 19, 2010 5:41:52 PM

  25. HATEROSEXUAL INJUSTICE. The haterosexual police are out there targeting gay men so they have permanent criminal records and can't get good paying jobs for the rest of their lives. The only way to stop this stuff is to sue and to continue to sue until these haterosexuals learn.

    Posted by: Bill | Jul 19, 2010 6:13:34 PM

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