Lansing — A state representative wants to close an exemption in Michigan’s laws that allows law enforcement officers to have sex with prostitutes during investigations.
Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, introduced a bill last week that would close that allowance after University of Michigan law professor Bridgette Carr brought it to Glenn’s attention that Michigan is currently the only state in the nation with a loophole that allows for undercover cops to have sex with prostitutes.
Carr, who works for UM’s Human Trafficking Clinic, said a reporter from Time magazine originally brought it to her attention at least two years ago. Since then, she has tried to sound the alarm in Michigan about potential sexual abuse from law enforcement because of the exemption. Because there’s an exemption for law enforcement officers in the statute that outlaws soliciting prostitutes, it's impossible to know whether or how often it actually occurs, Carr said.
But lawmakers didn’t seem to have enough interest to actually introduce a bill. Until now.
“The ways and means of Lansing defy my understanding,” Carr said.
Glenn said his staff have informed him that a tentative House panel hearing for the bill could happen as soon as March 28. He said “there’s no widespread evidence of law enforcement abuse,” but he wants to allay any doubts.
“Whether or not the abuse is widespread is not the point,” Glenn said. “We don’t want Michigan known as the only state in which law enforcement officers can legally pressure human trafficking victims into having sex without fear of prosecution.”
Another Republican lawmaker on the panel that will consider Glenn’s bill, Rep. Peter Lucido, added: “It just doesn’t look good.”
Lucido of Shelby Township is a longtime lawyer who sits on the Law Revision Commission — a state body charged with identifying anachronistic laws for the chopping block — and he said he has never heard of officers actually using the loophole. He said he didn’t even know it existed until recently.
“I think it’ll pass,” he said. “If there’s rational people in the Legislature … why do you need a police officer … to go ahead and commit a sex crime and get away with it? Because they can?”
State Police don’t engage in any sexual conduct during the course of human trafficking or prostitution investigations, according to State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner. She said the department doesn’t keep any data on whether the loophole has been used in the past.
“That’s not a tactic that’s part of our investigation protocols,” said Banner, adding she’d “be surprised” if local law enforcement acted otherwise.
Detroit police also don’t allow officers to sleep with prostitutes, according to department spokesman Sgt. Michael Woody.
Woody said undercover agents instead pose as “johns” and attempt to agree on a payment, after which police can make an arrest without taking it further. He said the department also has undercover agents pose as prostitutes who offer services to unsuspecting johns, and arrests are made on verbal agreement alone.
“We most certainly do not make arrangements to meet with them at any locations,” Woody said. “Prior to me reading about it in the paper, I never even knew (the exemption) existed. There would be no need for it. There are a number of ways that you can make an arrest without having to go that distance.”
The bill was assigned to the House Law and Justice Committee but has not yet been officially scheduled for a hearing. If the House panel approves the legislation, it would need to be approved by the full House, then the Senate without change and finally signed by Gov. Rick Snyder before becoming law.
“I can’t imagine the outcome being anything other than unanimous passage in both houses and that the governor will quickly sign it into law,” Glenn said.