How the People Reclaimed Oklahoma City from a Major Eruption of Adult Businesses and Crime

Publicity campaigns and pressure on city officials helped Oklahoma City recover from a proliferation of adult enterprises in the 1980s. Jon Stephen Gustin, Retired Sergeant, Oklahoma City Police Department, tells the story in QUALITY OF LIFE: A Look At Successful Abatement of Adult Oriented Business Nuisances in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (1984-1989) (PDF). Some excerpts:

Traditionally police departments have assigned personnel to investigate complaints stemming from adult businesses on a reactive rather than proactive basis…

Oklahoma City is a city of over 650 square miles within city limits with an MSA population [of] nearly 750,000. In the early 1980’s Oklahoma City had a disproportionately large number of “Adult Oriented businesses”. The economy of the ’80s, in Oklahoma, helped pave the way for these businesses to thrive. The oil industry was in peak production and with massive exploration and production [the] state’s population grew with an influx of oil field workers and support personnel. The salaries paid were often far above the national average in like industries and entertainment businesses grew rapidly in a symbiotic relation to the oil boom…

Houses of prostitution, Nude and Semi-Nude bars, Adult theaters, Adult bookstores and all levels of prostitution spread through the city…

By [1984] [t]here were over 150 adult businesses operating in the city and an estimated population of 200 street prostitutes. The street offered their wares in half a dozen locations inside city limits and the crime rates in these areas skyrocketed. These areas came to be known as “strolls”. Competition for a share in the profits to be made from adult businesses [led] the owners to become increasingly more blatant with street signs and advertisements…

Citizens in the community began to voice concern about the decay of community moral standards and the associated high crime rate while property devaluation in adult oriented business [areas] affected home and business owners. In 1984, George Harper, a local grocer, mounted a media assault on these enterprises and his organization, “Oklahomans Against Pornography” began gaining grass roots support in the community. Other citizen’s and church groups followed Mr. Harper’s lead and in a relatively short period of time action [groups] coalesced into a powerful block of local influence.

Robert Macy, the district attorney of Oklahoma County, a well respected local leader, took a clear stand that pornography and illicit sexual oriented business cases presented to his office by law enforcement personnel would be prosecuted with an emphasis on Maximum penalties for offenders… Mr. Macy’s predecessor was considerably more liberal in his approach to prosecution of pornography and illicit sexually oriented enterprises which made them nearly impossible to successfully prosecute… Assistant district attorneys began to specialize in first amendment issues with respect to pornography prosecution and took a hard [stand] against powerful national organizations, the foremost of which was the First Amendment Lawyers Association, a group specializing in criminal defense of pornographers across the nation.

Initially there was frustration on the part of the anti-porn special interest groups based on a lack of aggressive police enforcement. Frustrations escalated and a schism developed between the police administration and these groups. Local elected officials found themselves barraged with mail and phone calls. City Council chambers filled with supporters of an anti-porn crackdown on numerous occasions.

Pressure rapidly grew into demands for action from elected officials who passed their constituents’ demands on to the police administration. Continued demands were made of the city fathers as well as the chief of police to take affirmative action. Mr. Macy initiated additional pressure for the police to act aggressively by publicly announcing his position of strict prosecution. The demands were simple and succinct: mount an attack on adult businesses in [the] community with the intent of putting them out of business if they are breaking the law…

The battle fell on the shoulders of the Vice Detail to mount an offensive against all aspects of the problem.

Priorities were established in the initial plan of attack. Along with street prostitution, which was at epidemic levels, the worst offenders in pornography distribution were selected for strict enforcement. Enforcement measures began, first against the nearly 200 street prostitutes who were the most visible problem. Arrest levels were dramatic and “John Traps” were simultaneously conducted, where the males seeking prostitute’s services were arrested by female police decoys.

Media involvement played an essential role in the plan to decrease the prostitution problems… Television media accompanying police on raids and filming from inside surveillance vans was unprecedented and the media’s attention to the situation increased public awareness further. Citizen support grew from a more enlightened public. Community tolerance of adult enterprises turned to outrage and unilateral support for police and prosecutors in enforcement of “victimless” crimes for the first time.

After the street prostitute population was diminished through a “no tolerance” enforcement approach coupled with aggressive prosecution at the County level, enforcement efforts were focused on brothels. In one raid Vice Officers simultaneously made arrests at 12 houses of prostitution where officers arrested all of the madams, prostitutes and customers. Again media coverage continued to fan the fire for citizen support…

In several investigations officers swabbed the walls and floors of peep show booths securing samples of seminal fluids in the evidence seized…

The growing momentum then focused on nude and semi-nude dance bars involved in prostitution and drink hustling with promises of sexual favors for the purchase of expensive cocktails… Repeated arrests in these bars forced them into compliance with the law forcing them out of business based on a lack of customers’ support.

The final arena of the battle became escort services which were no more than illegal organized fronts for prostitution. A year long investigation of escort services began with nearly a 100% conviction rate obtained by the district attorney’s office in State Court, including convictions of madams who owned and operated the services.

It quickly became evident that arrest and conviction had little [effect] on these businesses and that in order to effectively abate this nuisance it would be necessary to eliminate the only link between prostitutes and their prospective clients. In an attempt to accomplish this, Vice Detail officers operated their own undercover escort service arresting those persons who sought prostitutes in this manner. The investigation drew media attention, but since [many] clients were travelers visiting Oklahoma City from other areas of the country no noticeable decline was observed.

It was determined that the only solution to the problem was the elimination of phone service to those phone numbers where documented prostitution cases had been made and convictions obtained… The attempt was not successful in that municipal counselors refused to press forward with the issue. It was later learned that the Municipal Counselor himself was employed by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at the same time he [was] Municipal Counselor.

At the beginning of 1990 only a handful of the original 150 adult businesses were still in operation and that remained operated within statutory guidelines…

Active enforcement in Oklahoma City began in 1984 and continued into 1989. It has been documented that incidents of reported rape during that period decreased in Oklahoma City while rising in the rest of the state as well as the nation. In 1983, 588 rapes were reported to police and it is estimated that only one third of actual rapes are reported. By the end of 1989, 427 rapes had [been] reported to police. The 27% reduction in reported rape accounted for 641 women and children who were not raped but would have been had the rape [rate] remained unchanged for the five year period.

The rest of [the] State of Oklahoma experienced an increase of reported rape by 16%. Had Oklahoma City’s rape incidence increased at the same rate…as the remainder of the state,
reported rape in Oklahoma City would have been close to 1,000 more victims between 1984-1989…

In a proactive policing environment numbers of arrests decrease proportionately to the number of crimes committed. Vice Officers made only 10% as many morals arrests in 1989 as they were required [to] make in 1985 to abate the same nuisances.

Oklahoma City is an example of the benefits of stringent enforcement and prosecution of Adult Oriented Businesses commonly characterized as “victimless crimes”. Because of the actions and efforts on the part of citizen’s groups, District Attorneys and Police Officers working as a team 1,000 potential rape victims are healthy, happy and alive today.

Oklahoma City shows how adult businesses can proliferate and cause major problems when public officials are lax about law enforcement. Proactive adult-use zoning is an effective and low-cost way to head off many of these problems, sparing citizens and police of the need to make heroic efforts later. The people don’t always get as good a result as in Oklahoma City. For example, see Hollywood’s story.

As our readers know, we have expressed frustration with inadequate or biased coverage of porn issues in some media outlets. In Oklahoma City we have an example of the media working effectively to increase citizen awareness and improve the quality of life in its area of coverage.

See also:

NoPornNorthampton: Final Petition Tally
On July 10, 2006, NoPornNorthampton began to circulate a petition to local citizens. The goal of the petition was to keep our neighborhoods safe while respecting civil liberties. When the Northampton City Council passed adult-use zoning measures on November 2, 2006, we finished gathering signatures. The final signature tally included 1,016 Northampton residents and 535 non-residents, for a total of 1,551 signatures.

Vote Tracker: Northampton City Council on Adult Signage, Location of Adult Enterprises (November 2006)

Approved: An ordinance to regulate the adult content of signage

In favor: Michael Bardsley, James Dostal, Paul Spector, Marilyn Richards, David Narkewicz, David Murphy, Marianne LaBarge

Opposed: Raymond LaBarge, Maureen Carney

Absent: None

Approved: An ordinance to require that establishments with porn viewing booths locate in Northampton’s Highway Business District and be at least 500 feet away from homes, schools, houses of worship, and certain other features.

In favor: Michael Bardsley, James Dostal, Marilyn Richards, David Narkewicz, David Murphy, Marianne LaBarge

Opposed: Raymond LaBarge, Paul Spector, Maureen Carney

Absent: None

Approved: An ordinance to require that large adult enterprises (over 1,000 square feet of adult material on display) must locate in Northampton’s Highway Business District and be at least 500 feet away from homes, schools, houses of worship, and certain other features.

In favor: Michael Bardsley, James Dostal, Marilyn Richards, David Narkewicz, David Murphy, Marianne LaBarge

Opposed: Raymond LaBarge, Paul Spector, Maureen Carney

Absent: None

NPNAdmin comment of 3/23/07, relating to Capital Video’s porn shop in Springfield (Amazing.net)
When citizens feel that a city can’t or won’t deal with obvious nuisances like Capital Video’s porn shop, it is understandable that they would feel despair. Despair is another important part of Springfield’s problems.

[Dianne Little:] And this is all two blocks from the police station. I call that blatant. When you’re trying to develop a nice neighborhood, rent a nice building, and you have to walk through a couple hookers to get in the door, or you’re afraid you’re going to be solicited on the way out…

[Springfield Police Commissioner Edward] Flynn said he frequently encounters a “culture of victimization, defeat and bitterness” that is slowing progress in Springfield.

“I understand it on one level,” Flynn said. “On the other hand, it’s a corrosive cancer.”

As Rudy Giuliani understood well, small things matter. You have to start somewhere. Shutting down Capital Video’s porn shop in Springfield as a public nuisance would be an unmistakable signal that the city has the will and the ability to care for its residents.

Potential Nuisance Claims Against Capital Video

One thought on “How the People Reclaimed Oklahoma City from a Major Eruption of Adult Businesses and Crime

  1. The label “Adverse Secondary Effects,” or in this case just “Secondary Effects,” has continuously been used as an excuse to push an agenda behind a mask. Instead of hiding behind one of these labels why not come out and say it, you hate the Adult Industry and want it abolished! Adverse secondary effects allows the opposition of adult clubs to cry wolf and claim that these types of establishment are directly correlated to an increase of crime when in fact, all they really are concerned about is removing the establishment. Those who are more concerned with shielding their eyes from these clubs than upholding First Amendment Rights continuously use and abuse and distort the facts.

    So why are adverse secondary effects claimed if they are just a hoax? Because they are an easy ticket for a State Attorney to ride in on. There will always be those in support of suppressing First Amendment Rights and upholding what they believe to be morally superior. They want to protect the children from the devilish naked women that dance downtown. But realistically, you can’t protect children from everything, and one day they will grow up and ask, “Where are my First Amendment Rights?” Well kids, congratulations, mom and dad sold them down the river to protect you from porn. Welcome to America!

    It seems that those opposed to adult entertainment always can rely on the research and statistics; there is a connection between strip clubs and crime. Well, for every study that you show me, I will show you one back that says there is no correlation. For example, I have linked here, http://www.acenational.org/newsletters/acenewsletter_12.17.01.pdf, a copy of a local study in Minneapolis that calls out Adverse Secondary Effects for what they are, a fake. There will always be reports on both sides claiming to know the truth, but the point I am making is that there is no real proof…at least not yet.

    Lets call a spade a spade and not hide anymore. As I have previously entertained in a class discussion, there is a strategic advantage for a regulation based on Adverse Secondary Effects. If you claim that the regulation is not content based then you must only face intermediate scrutiny as opposed to making a content-based regulation and facing strict scrutiny, which very few regulations will surpass. Thus, a motive is created for using a farce instead of just coming out and saying it.

    When our First Amendment rights are restricted there must be an extremely important basis. Not agreeing with the subject matter of the adult industry is not even close. These are our freedoms; the right to freely express your thought and ideas! There are lots of things that I do not agree with and would love nothing more then to eliminate them, but I respect and tolerate them because my neighbor may express his appreciativeness for them. In the world we are living in there are much more important things to speak out against.

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