Nuisance law, informants aid prostitution crackdown
By SHEILA BURKE
After years of making many prostitution arrests with little effect, Metro officials said that it took good use of the nuisance statute and confidential informants to begin to drain the swamp. Officials at Mayor Bill Purcell's office have repeatedly denied that the mayor is behind the effort targeting businesses that promote prostitution. Instead, officials in Purcell's office credit the Department of Law and the police with the initiative.
The 2 1/2 month crackdown on prostitution that has seen the closing of 31 adult businesses actually began more than a year ago, when the Metro Department of Law went after strip clubs operating outside the adult business zone. So around the end of 2000, Metro lawyers started taking the businesses to court to try to shut them down. "For some of those cases, it simply involved an officer going in and seeing people dancing naked,'' Law Director Karl Dean said.
It worked. A number of the businesses that the department targeted either shut down or stopped hiring strippers. Then, the Department of Law got complaints about two nightclubs that police said were the sites of frequent gunbattles and fights. City lawyers petitioned the court to have the Tropicana Dance Club in south Nashville and The Underground club downtown declared a public nuisance.
The Department of Law learned from the experience of District Attorney Torry Johnson, who had previously gone after clubs that police said were havens of criminal activity. With the nuisance statute, Dean said, ''We got better every time we did it." Police in east Nashville then called the Department of Law about a Dickerson Pike motel they said was a front for prostitution.
The police conducted an undercover sting operation. Then Dean asked the court to close the motel, saying the owners rented rooms to known prostitutes, charged per customer and supplied condoms. On Nov. 9, with a court order in hand, police padlocked Apple Annie's Inn, accusing it of operating as a brothel.
The city forced the owners to agree to stop peddling prostitution and to sell the motel. It was the first time the Department of Law used the nuisance statute to stop prostitution, and it was a huge success, Dean said, because police put a strong case together. One of the problems vice officers had was that prostitutes in businesses had become cautious and wanted customers to start proving that they were not police officers. They were so wary of police that many asked patrons to take off their clothes before discussing the transaction - something undercover vice officers will not do.
Metro Vice Squad started paying informants to go into massage parlors and sex clubs to find out what was going on. The informants have been very effective. All but one of 32 businesses identified by police have closed down, including every massage parlor in town, police said.
Copyright May 27, 2002 The Tennessean
Update for 2008: all appeals have failed and the local laws have been upheld.
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