Approximately 75 percent of the cases will likely be settled before they go to court, says city prosecutor Roger Potter. "We find those difficult to prosecute because unless it's absolutely black-and-white, it's difficult to prove the things they're charged with," Potter says. Though penalties can be severe -- up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine -- Potter notes that the few convictions typically lead to little more than probation.
Dick Bryant, longtime lawyer for several of Kansas City's adult businesses, calls the arrests a waste of police time and effort, and he says his clients have done well against such charges in the past. "Our challenges to the ordinance itself, I think, have been fairly significant over time," he says. "We've won our fair share, we've negotiated our fair share and we've lost a few, as well."
Bryant says most cases against lap dancers and strippers cause an unconstitutional prior restraint -- and he's not talking about a new pole dance featuring leather play. By arresting a dancer in the middle of her shift, Bryant argues, officers restrict her First Amendment-guaranteed freedom of expression. "She's been unable to communicate her message of her next dance," he says. "Her next dance may not be obscene. Her next dance may not be a violation of the ordinance. The first dance may not have been obscene or a violation of the ordinance. So [the police] have engaged in an act of prior restraint."
Vice detective Victor Zinn admits that Bryant's First Amendment defense works. But the likelihood that Zinn's work won't stand up in court didn't keep KCPD officers from looking carefully for stripper naughtiness at Bazooka's, Temptations, Legs and Satin Dolls between April 26 and May 18.
Their modus operandi: cops of various races and ages filed into the strip clubs, pretending to be average, run-of-the-mill tits-and-ass enthusiasts. They observed various types of worker-on-patron contact, particularly dancers' ministering to the wedge between their customers' legs.
To Zinn, the city's adult entertainment ordinance is clear. "They're not allowed to rub their pubic area against the pubic area of the patrons," he says.
Dancers who violated Zinn's dictum were arrested on the spot, putting a significant damper on festivities otherwise soundtracked merrily by Aerosmith and Nelly. "The guys we were entertaining this whole time, they popped up, and we found out they were the police," says one of the dancers. Officers even arrested a DJ -- not for his song selection but because he recognized the undercover operation and broadcast an amplified welcome to "Kansas City's finest." That's obstruction of justice, police said.
Bryant says he has no qualms about soaking up courtroom time with such cases.
"If it's important enough to arrest an entire business staff, it's probably important enough to give each of [the defendants] attention in court," he says. "So let's just try each dancer's case for an hour." That hour -- plus all of Bryant's time collecting depositions and reports on the fifty cases -- will likely be paid for by the clubs.
Both Bryant and Potter say that all of this spring's cases are in the early stages of court action and therefore difficult to comment on.
Meanwhile, the cautious dancer wonders whether she has a happy customer or one with a badge in his pocket. And the vice squad laments not getting to the clubs more often. "To be quite honest, we had been a bit remiss in checking these places," Zinn says. "We hadn't been there in about a year."