Police in Volusia County, an area on the eastern coast of Florida that contains Daytona Beach, have arrested 18 men for lewd activity after a four-day sting operation in county parks. The arrested men’s names, mugshots and places of residence were subsequently published in several Florida news outlets.
Dubbed “Operation Park Hopper,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood reportedly spearheaded the four-day campaign just as county schools let out for the summer and park patrons complained about men cruising the parks.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports:
During the sting, undercover deputies sat on park benches and waited for the men to approach. According to the police reports, the men often steered the conversation to sex, began to rub the undercover deputies or expose their genitalia to them, and, in some cases, masturbate.
Though the men ranged from ages 28 to 78, Chitwood says the majority were middle-aged or older. Eight of the arrests occurred in Riverbend Park in the county’s northern area, four occurred in Sleepy Hollow Park in the south and two occurred in Green Springs Park near Lake Monroe.
Chitwood told reporters:
“If you insist in going in our parks and trails and engage in this type of despicable behavior you may find yourself in handcuffs. It’s important that we set the tone that our parks and trails are safe for families. When you call a complaint in to us, we are going to follow up on it.”
His comments suggest that future sting operations might be in mind.
What’s stranger though is why the newspapers, includingThe Daytona Beach News-Journal, bothered publishing the men’s mugshots, names and areas of residence. It’s not like newspapers do that for every person arrested (their names, yes, but rarely their mugshots and neighborhoods).
These men haven’t even been tried or proven guilty yet, so what makes “lewd conduct” so much more odious than other crimes? Publishing all their info seems eerily similar to the Ugandan newspaper that published the names of suspected homosexuals for public retaliation in 2014.
It’s a form of public shaming, and one that could very well make these men despised by the public long before their day in court. Some men publicly exposed for similar charges in the past have subsequently committed suicide. All this is particularly troubling considering that the courts sometimes throw out the charges over illegal police methods.
According to The Los Angeles Times: these sorts of sting operations have become increasingly criticized for such methods:
“Some gay-rights activists do not condone public sex but have long condemned the busts as a form of entrapment.. undercover officers, critics contend, often exchange flirtatious signals and make arrests of men who think their advances are welcome, when no one else is nearby to be offended. They say that the stings can ensnare men who hadn’t otherwise been seeking sex and that they rarely, if ever, target straight people.”
In one case, a judge ruled that “the presence and tactics of the decoy officers actually caused the crimes to occur.” Critics of sting operations also say that the police should discourage public sex by having an officer presence in the park, and that local vice squads should focus more on stopping sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
(Featured image by kali9 via iStock Photography)