Don’t ever, even as a casual conversation starter, tell Christopher Baughman that prostitution is a “victimless crime.”
He’ll disagree. Passionately. Vehemently. And, ultimately, convincingly.
It doesn’t hurt that Baughman’s arguments are bolstered by his firsthand experiences as a detective in the Metropolitan Police Department’s Pandering Investigation Team, which targets the pimps who exploit and enslave women here.
Now, in his first book, “Off the Street,” (Behler Publications, $15.95), Baughman writes about the painstaking work of the unit and, more specifically, the painstaking investigation that led to the conviction of a particularly nasty pimp on pandering charges.
Thanks to Baughman’s literary skills, the nonfiction story reads like a novel. It’s gritty and informative — the procedural aspects of the investigation are must-reading for any aspiring crime writer — and, even, a sort of love story about a cop and the city he serves.
When Baughman moved to Las Vegas with his family at the age of 9, the change of scene was dramatic.
“We had just left Denver, where it was green and there were lakes and rivers and grass,” he says. “And I remember driving over the hill and (thinking), ‘Wow, what is this place?’ “
Baughman’s family ended up living in several of the city’s dicier neighborhoods. On the upside, because they never stayed too long in any one neighborhood, “I never really got suckered into the gang culture or the pimp culture,” Baughman says. “But as a kid, I saw a lot of things that helped shape me.”
None of which, it must be noted, ever made him think about someday becoming a cop.
“Not even close,” Baughman says. “When I saw a policeman, I never saw a policeman helping an old lady on the corner with a flat. So my idea of a policeman wasn’t anything I ever wanted to be. They weren’t the good guys.”
Once, while shooting hoops, two cops drove up seemingly out of nowhere and “slammed me on the ground,” Baughman recalls. “I don’t know what happened, but they were yelling at me and calling me asshole and swearing at me.”
After they released him, Baughman ran home to tell his mother what had happened. “I told my mom how much I hated those white cops,” he remembers.
“My mom told me, ‘You don’t hate people because of race.’ She said sometimes bad people get put into places that should be reserved for good people, so you can’t hate anyone and you can’t be mad at anyone because they’re white.
“She said, ‘I can tell you, in my life there have been experiences where people helped me, and not all of them were black.’ I still remember that conversation like it was yesterday.”
Baughman did, however, decide that “I wanted to be a good person and I wanted to contribute to my community.” For a time, he did just that by pursuing social work and working with teenagers.
Then, one day, “my dad said, ‘You need to become a detective,’ ” Baughman says. “I told him: ‘You’re crazy. I can’t do that.’ He obviously knew something I didn’t.”
After graduating from the police academy, Baughman started working in the patrol division, then moved to the gang unit, and then to vice. Finally, he joined the PIT, which combats prostitution via the atypical strategy of going after pimps rather than prostitutes.
In retrospect, Baughman figures his own personal history prepared him well for his police career in gangs and vice.
“I mean, where else was I going to go?” he says. “I understood the culture. There were things I could bring to the table that someone, maybe, from a small town in California couldn’t bring to the table.”
And Baughman would even call it “fateful” that he then would go after pimps, given that he was just 12 when he had what he calls his “first run-in with some of these guys.”
He was at a friend’s house, watching Saturday morning cartoons, when the boys heard an angry pounding on the door. When nobody answered, a man “kicked down the door and dragged my boy’s mom out by her hair and started beating her in the middle of the yard,” Baughman recalls.
The man took what little money she had. And, Baughman says, “I came to know, OK, this guy was a pimp and my friend’s mom was a prostitute.
“It didn’t matter to me and it still doesn’t matter to me. She took care of us. I ate breakfast there. I would spend the night there. She loved her son and she loved me.
“But when someone tells me it’s a victimless crime, I’m, like, ‘Where are you from? What have you seen?’ This destroys people’s lives. These pimps are the worst guys ever.
“So when someone tells me that, it just almost makes me vomit. These people don’t want to see or don’t know. Maybe they’re ignorant. But in my world, where I grew up, it is not a victimless crime.”
With his first book — he has just about finished his second and has a deal for a third — Baughman hopes to educate readers about a horror they don’t believe exists, don’t care exists or would rather just not think about at all.
“I honestly feel like we are at war and we’re losing because we don’t even realize we’ve been attacked,” Baughman says.
Other books recently published or set for fall release written by local authors or which deal in local themes include:
“Alzheimer’s and Dementia: A Practical and Legal Guide for Nevada Caregivers” (University of Nevada Press, $19.95) by Las Vegans Kim Boyer, an elder law attorney, and Mary Shapiro, a gerontologist and counselor, is an updated version of a book that first appeared in 2006. It includes information about laws, research, treatments and resources available to people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and related diseases.
“Catfish” (CreateSpace, $14.99) by Jim Wise, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and frontman of Las Vegas lounge mainstays Jim Wise and Route 66, offers both humor and suspense in telling the tale of what happens when toxic waste does some strange things to a Tennessee lake’s inhabitants.
“Coming of Age in the West 1883-1906” (CreateSpace, $15) by Will Gurr and Las Vegan Ted Robert Gurr is an account of Will Gurr’s life in Alaska and central Washington as told by Ted Robert Gurr in the form of an annotated copy of his uncle’s memoirs.
“Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan” (Gefen Books, $24.95) by Meir Doran and Las Vegan Joseph Gelman makes the case that the Hollywood producer (“Pretty Woman,” “L.A. Confidential”) also was “one of the most important covert agents that Israeli intelligence has ever fielded.”
“Crit” (CityLife Books, $14.95) by Andrew Kiraly tells the hilarious and heartbreaking story of a burned-out L.A. rock critic whose final assignment brings him to Las Vegas.
“A Day Without Pain” (Central Recovery Press, $15.95) by Dr. Mel Pohl, medical director of Las Vegas Recovery Center, examines ways of treating chronic pain without the use of potentially addictive drugs.
“Flat Kick Balls and Bent Hula Hoops: Opening a New Charter School in the Back Rooms” (AuthorHouse, $9.99) by Failyn Brooks is a humorous look at the growing pains of a Las Vegas charter school.
“Gambling, Space and Time: Shifting Boundaries and Cultures” (University of Nevada Press, $39.95), edited by Paulina Raento and David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, examines the boundaries that divide and organize gaming spaces and the cultures, perceptions and emotions related to gambling.
“High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction” (Beacon Press, $25.95) by former Las Vegas Sun reporter Sam Skolnik explores the rise, and the costs, of legalized gambling throughout the United States.
“The Las Vegas Chronicles: The Inside Story of Sin City, Celebrities, Special Players and Fascinating Casino Owners” (Scotline Press, $25) by Andrew J. McLean is an exhaustive compendium of Las Vegas history and trivia, with a particular focus on some of the city’s more, ahem, colorful figures.
“Lost in Las Vegas” (Cardoza Books, $26.95) by Avery Cardoza is an offbeat comedy about two vacationers whose Las Vegas vacation doesn’t go quite as planned.
“Marching Students: Chicana and Chicano Activism in Education, 1968 to the Present” (University of Nevada Press, $34.95) by Margarita Berta-Avila, Julie Lopez Figueroa and Anita Tijerina Revilla, an assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, examines the Mexican-American civil rights movement’s struggles against racism and educational inequality.
“Neon Dreams” (CreateSpace, $13.95) by former Las Vegan Marilyn Mufson tells the story of a young woman who wants to escape ’60s-era Las Vegas for Broadway but, instead, finds herself working at a sleazy Glitter Gulch casino.
“Nuclear Shadow: A Novel of Intrigue on The Nevada Test Site” (Lansing Publications, $16.95) by Charles Meier is a mystery/thriller that involves a lost silver mine and a chase across the desert.
“Succubus Revealed” (Kensington Books, $15), the final book in Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid urban fantasy series, brings the Seattle-based succubus to Las Vegas.
“Ten Days with Minor” (AuthorHouse, $11.70) by Las Vegas resident Nsedu Onyile revolves around the friendship between Minor, who is dying of AIDS, and Usukuma, a free spirit whose West African traditions help Minor to cope.
“Torn: Trusting God When Life Leaves You in Pieces” (Multnomah Books, $14.99) by Jud Wilhite, senior pastor of Central Christian Church, offers a faith-centered approach for dealing with bad times.
“Vanishing Act in Vegas” (L&L Dreamspell, $14.95) by Morgan St. James and Phyllice Bradner continues the comical adventures of the Silver Sisters as they embark on their latest mystery, this time in Las Vegas.
“Who Said So? A Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery and Complete Recovery from Multiple Sclerosis” (Imsoaring Publishers, $13.95) by Rachelle Breslow chronicles the author’s nontraditional battle with MS.
“Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction” (Marina Publishing Group, $16.95) by Morgan St. James offers tips and techniques writers can use to improve their stories.
Contact reporter John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280.