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Should Hawaii cops retain exemption allowing sex with prostitutes? Lawmakers debate the issue

Posted Mar 24, 2014 12:05 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Hawaii lawmakers are considering whether to eliminate an exemption to the state’s prostitution law that allows police acting within their official duties to have sex with prostitutes.

The unusual exemption came to light as Hawaii lawmakers debated a bill to toughen the state’s anti-prostitution laws. Members of the House voted to retain the police exemption, while the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday delayed a vote on the bill. The Los Angeles Times, Hawaii Public Radio and the Associated Press have stories.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Clayton Hee, vowed to eliminate the exemption. "I will tell you that without question I can't imagine police officers being exempt from the law,” he said Friday.

The Honolulu police department sought to preserve the exemption in testimony last month before the House Judiciary Committee.

The Honolulu Police Department clarified its position in a statement issued on Friday, according to Hawaii Public Radio. The HPD says it wanted the existing exemption retained so that undercover officers could agree to pay money for sex. "The HPD did not ask for permission to engage in sexual conduct with prostitutes," the statement says.

Under Hawaii law "merely agreeing to pay a fee for sexual conduct constitutes a violation of the statute," the statement says. "The exemption for police officers is necessary so they can conduct prostitution investigations. If there was no exemption, officers would not be able to respond to a verbal offer from a suspected prostitute. This does not mean that officers are allowed to engage in sexual penetration."

Strict written guidelines regulate officer conduct, the department says. "If we were to codify these rules, we would be publicly revealing specific undercover officer guidelines and Hawaii's prostitutes, 'pimps,' and johns would be able to use the information to avoid prosecution and continue their illegal activity," the statement says.

Story updated at 12:55 p.m. to state that the law applies to officers acting within their official duties.


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