Look out for the lap dance police


Hooray for the elimination of serious crime in Southern Nevada! Let's credit Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie for finally halting vehicle thefts, break-ins, gang violence and domestic disturbances. Heck, 9-1-1 dispatchers now take calls for lost pets and playground disputes between 2-year-olds -- our local cops have that much time on their hands.

How else can Las Vegas police justify making strip clubs a law enforcement priority?

On Tuesday, police asked the Clark County Commission to approve a new code that would allow undercover officers to ticket exotic dancers who get a little too friendly with their customers.

It's a touchy subject with the commission. Four former members were sent to federal prison this decade for taking bribes from a local strip club owner, who bought the votes he needed to protect the bump-and-grind trade.

The practices of this lucrative business are no secret. The central transaction at strip clubs, known as a "lap dance," involves physical contact between flittering strippers and their clothed, seated clientele. The more contact a stripper makes, generally speaking, the more the paying customer hands over in tips.

However, Vice unit Lt. Karen Hughes says some dancers deliberately arouse patrons, then try to close bigger payouts as prostitutes.

Current county code allows police to go after only club owners for dancer misconduct, such as straddling a customer. Because dancers work as freelancers and owners aren't always on the premises, it's difficult for police to prove that owners know about lap dances that go too far, Sgt. Glen Lowe said.

Police want the county's code to mirror the city's. That language doesn't impose stricter lap-dancing rules, which the commission briefly considered in 2002. Instead, police say, it makes exotic dancers directly accountable for misconduct and deters the kind of contact that leads to illegal acts of prostitution.

This is all very silly. For starters, undercover police have to be in, ahem, extremely close proximity to any lap dance to judge whether it's appropriate or illicit. So how many vice officers will Las Vegas police dedicate to the enforcement of this code, assuming it's approved? And how many lap dances will they have to endure before they issue a citation?

Moreover, in this economy, a new code is not going to discourage dancers from performing in ways that guarantee their income. This valley's strip clubs carry reputations known all across the country. One even has its own reality TV show.

So should police ignore strip clubs altogether? Of course not. Allowing these places to operate unchecked leads to lawless environments, which invites the kinds of abuses that led to the 2001 brutalization of Kansas tourist Kirk Henry by Crazy Horse Too employees over a bar bill.

But Southern Nevada law enforcement agencies need to focus their attention on serious crimes that pose a threat to public safety and private property. And if Las Vegas police can't have a cruiser respond promptly to every home burglary, if they can't curtail the "Lord of the Flies" culture that dominates our streets and highways, then they certainly don't have the time to crack down on lap dances.

 

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