Department’s practice of putting info online to resume once site is fixed; defense attorneys allege unit targets gay community with unfair tactics
A glitch has prevented the Dallas Police Department’s vice unit from publishing prostitution, public lewdness and indecent exposure arrests on DPD’s website since January, but local lawyers want the department to stop publishing the names and mug shots altogether.
Police have called the technique a deterrent for crime, saying there are few repeat offenders. But even before the glitch, not all of the prostitution, public lewdness and indecent exposure arrests made it online. Only vice arrests and those made by patrol officers who informed the vice unit about arrests were posted on the site.
Sr. Cpl. Sherri Jeffrey, a DPD spokeswoman, said around January the police website was compromised and taken down. During that time, it was discovered that one of “the weaker points of the website was the portal the vice section utilized to upload the indecency arrest information.”
The police website was restored quickly but the vice portal is still being worked on. Jeffrey said she had no timeline but said police intend to resume posting the arrests.
“The site was created to deter the behavior and reduce the number of offenses occurring especially in city parks and public restrooms,” Jeffrey wrote in an email to Dallas Voice. “We do not have a timeframe for when our CIS (Communication Information Service) department will put the site back up.”
Dallas defense attorney Tim Menchu disagrees that the publicity prevents crime and said he hopes police don’t resume the postings.
“It’s not a deterrent,” he said. “These cases they have no business publishing.”
Menchu said he has handled more than 200 cases and often gets the misdemeanor charges reduced or dismissed. But he said police should be posting suspects arrested for hard crimes like murder, rape and burglary, not sex crimes between consenting adults. Menchu also said he thinks the vice division targets the gay community as a group with the arrests.
“They do it for character assassination,” he said. “I think they’re unfairly targeting a group of people.”
Jeffrey said police have been publishing the indecency arrests for about seven years. Even though many police departments publish prostitution arrests, it is unclear whether any other city in the U.S. posts public lewdness and incident exposure arrests. Lt. Michael A. Coleman of the vice unit said when DPD began posting the arrests seven years ago, Minneapolis, Chicago and San Diego police were also posting them.
However, only prostitution-related arrests could be found online for those departments, and Coleman acknowledged that he didn’t have updated information regarding those cities.
Gay defense attorney John Loza was a member of the City Council in 2005 when the council supported posting the arrests online. He opposed the idea and agrees that the tactic isn’t a deterrent.
“I’ve always been against putting anyone on that website,” he said. “You’re basically branding people who haven’t been convicted. … I can’t imagine why it would be a good idea to label someone an offender on a website when they haven’t been convicted of anything.”
Loza, who has represented hundreds of clients in indecency cases, said they are “pretty much overwhelmingly gay.” He called police tactics “questionable” and said the public has come to doubt the validity of police arrests.
In March, Loza had a jury return a not guilty verdict shortly after hearing his client’s case. He said it showed how skeptical the public is when presented with the facts.
“They are trying really hard to lure people into a situation where they do something illegal,” Loza said of vice officers.
Sgt. Jamie Matthews, a former spokeswoman for DPD, previously told Dallas Voice that the site had a disclaimer at the top stating that suspects haven’t been convicted. “It’s used as a deterrent, basically,” Matthews said. “Whether or not they are found guilty, the fact of it is, they were arrested. That fact’s going to remain the same.”
When police first began posting the arrests, Menchu said he threatened them with a lawsuit because the information read that those listed had been convicted, not arrested. Although the wording was “quickly changed,” he said all it would take is one defamation lawsuit to make police seriously reconsider publishing the arrests.
Loza said he thinks police use entrapment to target the gay community, whereas Menchu called the tactics “enticing,” explaining that he believes police “invite certain conduct or even ask for certain conduct.”
“Quite frankly, I believe many times when the conduct didn’t occur the officer will go ahead and charge for,” Menchu said. “Not all of them but some of them.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 29, 2012.