We’ve all heard the official motto of the Los Angeles Police Department, “To Protect and to Serve.” They invite us to measure their behavior against that standard. Do police protect people they serve? The police oath asks officers to promise they will indeed do so:
I, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, and that I will uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, according to law.
With that in mind, you have to ask what police thought they were doing in their south Florida day spa investigation. If they thought Chinese sex workers at the spas were voluntary employees, they have hundreds of hours of video recordings that just make them voyeurs. If anyone else made these recordings secretly, as they did, they would arrest the people who operated the cameras. On the other hand, if police thought Chinese sex workers at the spas practiced their trade under compulsion, they let a terrible situation stand for a long time. They did not protect women who most needed it.
Among the most galling thoughts related to this so-called investigation: police could easily shut down a spa anytime, no cameras required. Send one of your people in for a massage. When a sex worker touches your crotch lightly and asks, “It’s okay?”, you have evidence you require to proceed. Yet police want to use their electronic gadgets to build a library of pornographic videos, and they want to catch as many johns as they can. So you set up an elaborate, six-month operation that makes sex workers, already in a weak position, your unwitting tools to gather evidence you can never show in court.
Someone forgot about the motto and the oath here. I do not see how this elaborate setup protected anyone. Whom did it serve? I wonder how many police officers, forced to watch hours of “evidence,” thought their time well spent? What did they tell their children when they came home, and their children asked, “Daddy, what did you do at work today?”, or, “Mommy, tell me what you did today!” How many wondered, after viewing various sex acts on grainy closed circuit television, how they wound up in a job like that? How many wondered how they came to exploit Chinese sex workers – women already exploited before police came on the scene – to meet their arrest and conviction quotas?
Someone forgot about the motto and the oath here. I do not see how this elaborate setup protected anyone.
After you promise to “accord equal respect to all people, according to law,” I would not expect you to brag about behavior that shows such crude disrespect for women. Whether you see sex workers at massage parlors as willing or unwilling, setting up secret cameras to film them at work seems precisely the opposite of a police officer’s responsibilities. Police arrest peeping Toms all over the country, whenever they catch them. They arrest them because peeping Toms have committed a crime.
Police promise to maintain community standards of decency. They promise to protect us from people who violate those standards. We have always regarded peeping Toms with disgust, figures who invite contempt for their indecent behavior. I do not see how the cloak of law enforcement against day spas changes the essential nature of the activity. When you watch people have sex without their permission, you have simply created your own peep show. No rationale you might offer for that behavior can redeem it.
Pity Robert Kraft then. What could motivate police officers to put video cameras inside a brothel? You don’t think you can gather sufficient evidence without watching men eagerly kick off their pants, without watching petite Asian women undress for their customers? We can see how urgently the police sought to protect those women, as they let their investigation drag on for six months or so, at five spas, with perhaps half a dozen women at each location. That’s thirty business months altogether, or two and a half business years. They rolled their cameras long enough to arrest about a hundred and fifty clients. Times six workers at each spa, and you have about fifteen person years for the exploited women.
What could motivate police officers to put video cameras inside a brothel? You don’t think you can gather sufficient evidence without watching men eagerly kick off their pants, without watching petite Asian women undress for their customers?
Moreover, with an average of, say, two visits per client, and one hundred fifty customers caught on camera with their pants down, the police watched film for about three hundred business transactions, each of which lasted about three quarters of an hour. That’s about two hundred and twenty-five hours of solid pornography you must watch, in order to lock this case up tight. All in a day’s work, right?
Well, what comes first, after all: protecting Chinese women from human trafficking and coerced sex work, or catching more customers on those video cameras? Clearly, once those cameras were in place, police had no reason to turn them off, until they caught an NFL team owner. The Chinese women seem to be good at what they do: why interrupt their livelihood? Who knows who we’ll catch next? Let the women be our bait for the next big fish. You have to wonder why they decided to end the so-called investigation after six months. If half a year was not too long, then why not a year, or a year and a half? The longer you run the cameras, the more people you catch.
For the humiliated customers, they’ll not forget this lesson: where you have electricity, you can be, and probably are being filmed. You do not even need to plug the camera in, as it can run a long time on its battery. Never assume you do not have a camera trained on you, to monitor everything you do. Old advice was, don’t pick your nose in public, as you don’t know who might see you, on camera or otherwise. That was long before cameras were ubiquitous. Now, if you engage with a sex worker, assume police have a live camera trained on you. Investigators do not even have to pay for the show. All they do is note the time and location for their database of unfortunates. I wonder how they identified the people who weren’t famous?
For the humiliated customers, they’ll not forget this lesson: where you have electricity, you can be, and probably are being filmed.
More curiously, why did the police emphasize the human trafficking and sex slavery side of the story? Why would they do that, after what they described as a monthslong investigation? Did they not think people would wonder, what the hell happened to your concern for the welfare of those women? You’re all concerned now, but you were willing to let them continue in their captive state for half a year! Did you weigh the women’s interests against your desire to conduct a thorough probe, or conveniently forget you exploited the women just as others did?
At the bottom of the heap in this pile of tradeoffs is privacy. We won’t even talk about whether sex workers and their customers have a right to privacy. Apparently they do not. Did the women know you were filming them? Did they tell you they wanted your investigation to continue for as long as possible? I doubt it. If their situation were so dire when you first discovered it, why did you wait so long to end it, then call the press to brag about what a great job you did? Why would you not act to free the workers, to get them out of trouble as soon as possible?
Meanwhile, Roger Goodell might force Robert Kraft out of business. Then everyone outside New England would be happy.