August 24, 2008
The city of Houston versus the strip clubs

Just an update in the ongoing legal battle.

[N]early five months after winning the right to keep sexually oriented businesses at least 1,500 feet from residential neighborhoods, the city's officials have yet to close a single establishment.

The businesses have continued operating through a series of loopholes, claiming to be legitimate bookstores or "bikini bars" that do not need to be licensed.

So after more than 11 years defending its ordinance in various courts, the city is heading back to the courtroom -- this time suing four businesses caught up in police stings, and hoping to shut them down for good.

The change in tactics was needed, city officials say, because police enforcement has not proved enough. Working undercover, Houston police have made numerous arrests. But because the charges often are misdemeanors, city officials have lacked the power to close the businesses.

"It's not like stopping somebody for speeding," said Patrick Zummo, an outside attorney the city has hired to help enforce its ordinance. "You have to do a lot of groundwork before you can proceed. It's frustrating that a lot of people seem to think this is all a fun-and-game business and the city is out there trying to shut down bachelor parties.

"We're talking about drugs and violent crime, all next to a residential neighborhood."

I think one reason why I've always been skeptical about this particular issue is that I've always had doubts about the claimed links between the clubs and violent crime. In all the time I've been following this story, I can't recall seeing any hard data bolstering those assertions. Is there really more violent crime in the vicinity of the SOBs? Is there evidence to suggest that the SOBs themselves are the cause of at least some of that crime? I mean, some of those clubs are in bad neighborhoods to begin with. Can we say for certain that if the SOBs were some other type of business, say a regular bar, that crime in the vicinity would decrease? All this may be true, I don't know. I'd just like to not have to take someone's word for it.

The Penthouse Club [...] is among those the city is suing to close. In a petition filed in state district court, the city alleges the club is operating without a required license for sexually oriented businesses.

The city also contends that the club has been the scene of 15 offenses in the last 18 months, including drug-dealing, prostitution and aggravated robbery. Not all of the alleged crimes, however, resulted in arrests or convictions.

Well, those are numbers, at least. But there we are taking somebody's word for it again. How many of those alleged crimes did result in arrests or convictions? Seems to me if most of them did, that'd be the number you'd want to tout. Otherwise, it feels like fluffing to me.

But I'm not the one who has to be convinced. There's a hearing for September 5. That'll tell us what we need to know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2008 to Local politics

In the grand scheme of things, the strip clubs are no worse than many other high volume bars, as far as crime goes. There are drunks, there are drugs, there is an occasional fight. These same violations occur at other high volume bars or nightclubs as well.

The crime numbers can be inflated as well. When HPD is concentrating on an establishment that sells alcohol, it is not hard for them to make arrests, or find crime. In fact, to claim that a strip club only had 15 incidents in 18 months, and "not all resulted in arrests", suggests to me that this club is pretty damn tame.

As much as I admire the work Bill White has done as mayor, I wonder why he has such a hardon for the strip clubs. I suspect that we will get our answer when he runs for governor. A Democrat who can brag on his morality bona fides is much more electable, no?

Posted by: RedSacre on August 24, 2008 9:23 AM

I admire Bill White, as well, but this whole issue strikes me as silly, not to mention being a huge and unwarranted expansion of governmental authority.

It has nothing to do with crime, but stems I think from his personal distaste for of prostitution and strippers, not that they are the same, of course. But that may be the problem. He has spoken often about the "degradation of women", as if that is a legitimate concern of the mayor of Houston.

Not the first time he has gone way out of his way to involve himself in matters not within the purview of his elected position.

Posted by: Dennis on August 24, 2008 4:44 PM

Doesn't the city have terrorists to watch out for instead of harrassing strip clubs? I date strippers and have enjoyed them very much over the years. It is idiotic that prostitution is not legal. What would be nice would be a sex enjoyment resort in Galveston complete with bikini girl call girls.

Posted by: Jerry Norman on November 27, 2008 11:37 PM
Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)