Cruising arrests may be low-profile in Salt Lake City, but they're major news in Fresno County, Calif.
The Fresno County Sheriff's Office likes it that way.
"Then it just doesn't become the dirty little secret and nobody knows what's going on," Fresno County Sheriff's Sgt. Rick Ko said.
The idea in both Fresno and Salt Lake City is to stop the problem. The approaches are near opposites.
Salt Lake police and prosecutors offer therapy and anonymity for men arrested for cruising. Authorities in Fresno County arrest offenders at their homes or businesses and often share the information with local news media. The involvement of the media puts the problem out in the open and makes everyone aware that men who engage in lewd behavior in public restrooms will be arrested and prosecuted.
"I hate for it to get confused with social issues because we're just investigating crimes," Ko said. "I think that Salt Lake City's counseling program is great, but for our team I'm not going to hide these arrests and try to minimize the exposure for these people. That's not my job. My job is to stop the activity, and the court decides on what the punishment is."
Here's how Fresno authorities handle the problem.
When undercover officers observe lewd behavior in a public restroom, they don't immediately arrest the individual but instead watch to see which car the person leaves in. They then run the car's license plate number to pull up the vehicle's registered owner. If the person's photo in the vehicle database matches, police submit a warrant with the courts for an arrest. If the photo does not match the offender, police perform a minor traffic stop on the car to obtain the necessary information to find the person at a later date and arrest him.
Police then write a warrant that provides for a judicial review before police can make an arrest.
"A judge is reviewing the case and saying, 'Yes, there is probable cause.' That's a lot higher standard," Ko said.
Police later designate an arrest day in which three detectives show up at the offenders' homes or offices.
"They do not kick in a door, throw the person on the ground and handcuff them, it's not one of those spectacles you see," Ko said.
The men are then sent through the court system just like any other person charged with a crime.
"When a gang member shoots somebody in Salt Lake City, do they shield someone that same way, even if he had a messed-up life?" Ko said. "I just think it's an equality issue. If you're going to do it for one, do it for all of them."
Part of the reason for Fresno's approach may lie in the fact that local attorneys often sling allegations that police are targeting gay men.
"We bend over backwards not to target a class of people, but by providing special treatment you're acknowledging that you're doing this against a certain group of people," Ko said. "One guy is carving out a living. What he's trying to show is that we target gay males. That's not correct. We are looking for lewd acts in public that violate the law."
In contrast, a recent arrest of a man for exposing himself in a park bathroom to an undercover Salt Lake officer went like this. After leading the pudgy, middle-age man from the bathroom without handcuffs, they took him to a nearby unmarked vehicle where he was issued a citation. The officers checked for any outstanding warrants. During the process, the West Valley City man sat in the front seat biting his nails.
After asking for the man's home and office telephone numbers, the officer told him, "We do not call your employer, we do not call your home."
"OK, I appreciate that," the man replied.
After confirming the man did not have any outstanding warrants, officers explained that there was a program he could enroll in with the prosecutor's permission.Comment on this story
"I'm going home," the man told the officers. "I wished I'd have done that and not stopped here tonight."As he was exiting the vehicle, the man told the officers, "Thank you, gentlemen, you've all been very courteous tonight."