Title: The Night They Raided the Danish Health Club in Hyattsville.
Coproducers: Sgt. Ken Poundsberry of the vice squad.
Starring: Veteran actor and police spokesman Robert Law, 15 county officers, 20 reporters and TV cameramen, countless confused onlookers and a modest assortment of alleged prostitutes and "johns."
Scene One: The rear parking lot of McDonald's in College Park at 9:30 on the night of Friday, May 2. The police brass -- Law and Poundsberry -- wait in their unmarked squad car. They are flanked by three large vans occupied by newshounds for the three local TV stations and another half-dozen cars for other members of the press. What is being billed as the "largest prostitution raid in years" is about to begin. But there is one problem.
It is raining.
An impatient police officer gets on the radio to the men in the field, the dozen men in blue who are ready and waiting at outposts near the Danish Health Club and its alleged sister operation, Abbey's Health Club in Beltsville. As soon as the two establishments get a sufficient supply of male customers, the raid will go forward.
"How many customers have entered the first establishment?" asks the radio officer to the stakeout team miles away at Danish.
"Just one," comes the disappointed reply.
"What about the other location?"
Sgt. Law shakes his head. "Maybe," he says, "the rain's screwing this up."
The cameramen and reporters get anxious, but not Sgt. Poundsberry, He's used to such waits. "Sixty percent of police work," he says, "is waiting." And so they wait. Local teenagers crowd around the cars to find out what's going on. The clock strikes midnight, the rain continues, action at the two health clubs is still slow. By now, even the officers are starting to wonder.
"I'd sure hate to go up to the door," says one, "and see a sign that says: 'Closed for Police Raid.'"
The owner of the McDonald's comes out to ask some questions. The police worry about security. They decide to move the press crew to another location several blocks away, where the wait continues.
Scene Two: They are now in a parking lot behind a bank. And here, too, there are curious teen-agers all around. They work the night shift at the bank, dozens of them, and they find it amusing that all these cops and reporters are waiting in their parking lot. "Next thing you know," says one youth, they'll bring on the dancing beagle act." Finally, the kids go home. And the cops and the reporters keep waiting.
Finally, at 2 a.m., Poundsberry gets word that there's some action at one of the health clubs. A male customer has entered.
"What's the timing on that," asks the vice squad sergeant.
"He's been there about 10 minutes," a stakeout officer replies.
Poundsberry makes a snap decision. He launches the raid.
Scene Three: After roaring down Rte. 1 in a ragged caravan, policemen, reporters and cameramen jump out of their cars and rush up to the front of the Danish Health Club at 5312 Baltimore Blvd. Arrests are being made at that very moment.
"Now remember," an officer says to the band of instant historians on the scene, "do not take pictures of our undercover police officers." And, in a precautionary aside, he adds: "We understand that two of the women inside have been exposed to hepatitis. Our men our wearing rubber gloves."
Suddenly, a large Cadillac pulls to the curb and a worried-looking man jumps from the car. "I'm the owner of this place," he says, running into the club.
"Is this a house of prostitution," asks a TV reporter, cameras whirring. "No sir," yells the man.
Inside, police discover an old man who had wandered in off the street because his car battery had died. "He wanted a different kind of jump start," jokes an officer, hustling the innocent fellow out of the way.
Sgt. Law, who claims to have once acted as an extra in a 1951 Humphrey Bogart movie, emerges from the club and gives an accounting of what goes on inside. "For $60 you can have a waterbed and a bottle of champagne," says Law. "What they do is ask the customer to undress, then the employe undresses. Then the male massages her and she massages the male. Anything extra is $20 and up."
Epilogue: The raid, which was the culmination of several months of undercover work, eventually netted 11 suspects, whom the police constantly referred to as "prisoners." The 11 suspects, including one 16-year-old girl, were charged with prostitution. All were released on bond the following day, and the massage parlors, according to police, will probably soon reopen for business as usual.
But officers were not discouraged by their long night's work, even though the results were modest and the longterm impact appeared slight. "If we can't make this illegal, at least we can make it unpopular," one officer said, referring to the media-coordinated, Hogan-inspired raid.