Remember — the police get no special treatment…
Honolulu police officers have urged lawmakers to keep an exemption in Hawaii 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 can further victimize sex workers, many [sic] of whom have been forced into the trade.
Police haven’t said how often — or even if — they use the provision. But 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. [LMFAO – ed]
But expert Derek Marsh says the exemption is “antiquated at best” and that police can easily do their jobs without it.
“It doesn’t help your case, and at worst you further traumatize someone. And do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?” asked Marsh, who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue.
A Hawaii bill cracking down on prostitution was originally written to do away with the sex exemption for officers on duty, but it was amended to restore that protection after police testimony. The revised proposal has passed the state House and will go before a Senate committee Friday.
The Hawaii bill aims to ratchet up penalties on johns and pimps while leaving the punishment for selling sex as a petty misdemeanor.
During recent testimony, Honolulu police said the sex exemption protects investigations and should remain in place. They say police aren’t abusing their authority by taking advantage of sex workers, and strict internal controls prohibit misconduct.
“The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential,” Honolulu Police Maj. Jerry Inouye told the House Judiciary Committee. “Because if prostitution suspects, pimps and other people are privy to that information, they’re going to know exactly how far the undercover officer can and cannot go.”
Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Inouye’s testimony convinced him to amend the proposal.
“It’s a really murky area,” said Rhoads, who represents a district that includes Honolulu’s Chinatown, a longstanding epicenter of street prostitution. “I was reluctant to interfere in something that they face all the time. If they think it’s necessary to not have it in the statute, this is one area where I did defer to them and say, ‘I hope you’re not having sex with prostitutes.'”