If you all haven't been following, there's been a completely fucked up story developing in Lansing over the city's use of undercover cops to crack down on cruising and the abuse of power going on there.
I don't believe for one second that the tactics they're using in Lansing have been isolated in that city. The police know that people arrested in those stings won't fight back so, without any real check on their power, they go wild.
Todd Heywood's been doing a great job investigating the May stings in Lansing and uncovering some of the corruption involved. And the only way that these sorts of stings will stop is through outside exposure, since the men who get arrested typically aren't willing to apply that pressure themselves. As we saw with Larry Craig, even a sitting US Senator will avoid talking to his lawyer about these charges.
The specific sting he's been investigating happened last May, and, per usual, the police said that they were responding to citizen complaints. I always wonder about these citizens who complain in these cases, and here the person who complained was actually a police commissioner. That's right - those complaints from citizens actually came from within the police department.
The commissioner said that she was acting outside of her role in the police department, where she oversees departmental budgets, but an email reveals that the officers knew exactly who was asking and how they were expected to respond:
I'd also like to get Police Commissioner, Jan Kolp off my back and help out Lt. Nosotti. Apparently the fella's are out in full force at Fenner looking for male love. I'd like to set up some surveillance and see if we can catch a couple of them servicing one and other, so they can be charged with Gross Indecency.
Well, apparently they didn't catch anyone in the act. So they sent undercover cops in there to get people to break the law.
The released arrest reports raise serious questions as well. Neither of the two men arrested during the sting attempted to have sex with the officers in the nature center. In fact, both reports show both men agreed to follow the decoy officer to an apartment to have sex. In one case, the man was rubbing his groin through his clothing, the report shows, and the undercover officer asked him: "Can I see it?" That action lead to the man exposing his penis to the officer. In the other situation, the officer used nonverbal communication cues to entice the man to expose himself. In that report, the officer discusses at length his knowledge of nonverbal cues to initiate exposure.
Both men have been arraigned and have plead guilty to charges.
Indeed, there isn't anything wrong with discussing sex in public and then going back home to do it. And when an officer of the law, even if you don't know he's a cop, asks you to expose yourself in public, it's not a crime either. It's entrapment.
Well, the crimes don't stop there. The Lansing Police Department, either in a punitive move against one of the men, or through complete sloppiness, included the fact that one of the men was HIV-positive in their police report. Reporting someone's HIV status without their knowledge is illegal in Michigan, and police only found out about it after a search of the man's apartment.
Not only is there an immense amount of stigma associated with cruising for sex in public, even if one doesn't have that sex in public, there's still plenty of stigma associated with being HIV-positive. There's no real reason for them to have disclosed it either, since he wasn't charged with anything that had anything to do with his serostatus.
These cruising stings often have little to do with actually helping the public and a lot to do with officers who like to prove what men they are by going out and arresting a few queers. No one in the public cared about the cruising that was going on there, so the police themselves planted complaints so that they could entrap men. And entrap they did, and then they arrested guys who were clearly not out to have sex in public, but were just searching in public for that sex.
It doesn't matter, though. Like Larry Craig, I'm sure these guys just wanted for this to all go away, and they pleaded guilty. Too bad for them, since it's going to be impossible to get that overturned. While I will, as always, throw out my warning to guys who cruise in public that they should have a plan if they get arrested, the police bear responsibility here as well. They're supposed to be acting responsibly on behalf of the residents of Lansing, not using their power to crack down on people they don't like. They know that these people are unlikely to fight back, and, ultimately, that's the reason they entrap.