Great moments in law enforcement: Hawaii police argue to keep prostitution exemption

Ed Morrissey Posted at 12:41 pm on March 21, 2014

Let’s try to understand this through a logical syllogism. In Hawaii, as in most states, prostitution is a crime. Police are supposed to stop crime. Therefore, police should stop prostitution — and not participate in it. However, police in Honolulu have an exemption to participate fully (so to speak) in prostitution in order to, er, stop prostitution. And they would like to keep that exemption in place, brah:

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 could 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. And 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. …

A Hawaii bill cracking down on prostitution (HB 1926) was originally written to scrap the sex exemption for officers on duty. It was amended to restore that protection after police testimony. The revised proposal passed the state House and will go before a Senate committee Friday.

It’s not immediately clear whether similar provisions are in place elsewhere as state law or department policy. But advocates were shocked that Hawaii exempts police from its prostitution laws, suggesting it’s an invitation for misconduct.

One rationale or at least analogy would be the war on drugs. It’s illegal to buy and sell prohibited drugs (and illegally buy and sell legal drugs too)  as well as to use them, but police routinely buy and sell drugs in order to close down trafficking channels. These kinds of undercover operations carry exemptions from prosecution for those illegal acts because we as a society value the end result of the investigations — capturing higher-ups and closing down supply points. We accept that trade-off in large measure because the police who work these undercover assignments don’t receive the normal “benefits” of the trade — the use of the drugs, and the profits.

That’s clearly not the case when police have sex with prostitutes, no matter how dedicated and detached the officer might be. Besides, one of the reasons for criminalizing prostitution is that it operates on the basis of human trafficking and victimizes women and girls. If police are having sex with prostitutes, does that not add to that victimization — or are police only sleeping with fully self-actualized women of age in these stings? If that’s the case, why are they targeting those women rather than try to liberate those being exploited?

This demand for an exemption carries even more irony considering the intent of the bill, emphasis mine:

The Hawaii bill aims to ratchet up penalties on johns and pimps. Selling sex would remain a petty misdemeanor.

Actually, that’s the way to attack prostitution — by drying up the demand. How does that square with the exemption, though, when the cop is the john? Who’s getting arrested in that scenario? The pimp, perhaps, but that part of the transaction takes place before the sex act transpires (if it happens in the cop’s presence at all), not afterward. Prostitution rarely works on unsecured credit.

The Associated Press notes that there isn’t much information on whether other jurisdictions allow for that kind of exemption, but perhaps other states should ask that question.

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