San Diego police raid strip club, photograph strippers

From ABC News 10 in San Diego:

The mood at the strip club in Kearny Mesa quickly turned intense Thursday night when 10 officers swarmed the building with guns and bulletproof vests, interrupting business for a couple of hours.

“I didn’t know if it was a bank robbery or serial killer on the loose the way they had come in like that,” said manager Rich Buonantony.

So why the show of force? Was there a violent fugitive inside? A drug kingpin? Was the club suspected of some sort of criminal conspiracy?

No. None of that.

The detectives showed up to make sure all 30 dancers had proper permits and were in compliance. Surveillance video shows the women lined up and officers taking down their information.

“They asked us for our licenses and then took down our Social Security and had us line up in the back of the dressing rooms and take pictures,” said stripper Katelynn Delorie.

Delorie is a hairdresser by day and a stripper at night. She has a lot of tattoos and says that made things even worse.

“They made me feel like I was a gang member pretty much and they wanted to document every single one of my tattoos.”

So this was a regulatory operation. But instead of sending a few bureaucrats to do the paperwork, the city of San Diego thought it appropriate to send a team of gun-toting cops to raid the place (similar to recent masked, militarized SWAT raids on massage parlors). Remember, according to the report, there was no suspicion of criminal activity here. This was a routine inspection. Which raises the question: Are all routine, regulatory inspections of San Diego businesses done with raid teams? Is it just strip clubs? Are strippers known for being dangerous? And if the photos were necessary for record-keeping purposes, why was it necessary to photograph the women while they weren’t wearing clothing?

It’s also puzzling why the TV station felt obligated to protect the identities of the police officers. If this was truly just a regulatory inspection, the cops wouldn’t be undercover officers. So what’s the point? This seems to be to be a pretty questionable use of that sort of force. The TV station obviously believes there’s at least an argument to be made that it was, or they wouldn’t have aired the story. TV stations air the names and photos of people suspected of crimes all the time. Yet police officers are public servants, who are authorized to carry guns, forcibly detain, and in some cases kill. There’s a strong argument that journalists should make every effort to expose the identities of officers who use force in questionable ways, not go out of their way to obscure them.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko · March 10