Houston Is Safer Today

Friday, May 4th, 2012

This video doesn’t show a dog killing, or a person killing, or a police beating. But in some ways, it’s more appalling than those sorts of videos. In it, you’ll see a “multi-agency” police task force arresting employees at a series of massage parlors in Houston. The businesses were apparently fronts for prostitution. The initial raid was conducted by a paramilitary police team, as you can see from the screen capture. In the video, the head of the task force steps out in full SWAT attire, including a balaclava, as he leads the women out of the building. He keeps the mask on throughout the video.

The women, all but one of whom were immigrants, are led out in handcuffs and leg shackles. One repeatedly struggles with and trips over her shackles on her way to the wagon. They all look terrified. The whole thing is stomach-turning. It’s an ugly, egregious, cock-waving display of power.

At worst, these these women provided a sexual service to willing customers in exchange for money. For that, a completely victimless crime, they get frog-marched in leg shackles on citywide TV.

But under that scenario the cops only look like bullies. There’s another possibility that makes them look thuggish and incompetent. In interviews with the local news, our brave and hooded vice warrior points out that these women could in fact be victims. That is, they may have been in the sex business involuntarily. We can’t know, he says, because they refuse to talk. He says they may fear that if they talk, their families back home will face repercussions.

Now let’s assume this is true. That means this multi-agency task force knew there was a possibility that these businesses were staffed with women who had been forced into prostitution. Aware of that possibility, they still scared the hell out of the women, cuffed and chained them, and—here’s the really galling part—tipped off the local news so it could all be put on TV. The humiliation is bad enough. But if there’s substance to the claim that these women fear retaliation against their families in their native countries, the potential repercussors now have video showing exactly which women were arrested. Back-slaps all around, guys.

And yes, there’s no question that the police tipped off the local news. Four (by my count) different TV stations don’t coincidentally show up at a run-of-the-mill strip mall just as a prostitution raid goes down. And while we’re passing out shame buttons, let’s slap a few on Houston’s local news teams, too. That’s you KHOU, Fox 26, ABC affiliate KTRK, and KPRC.  Think about what you’re putting on the air.  There’s no law that requires you to accommodate the police every time they want to flex their muscles on the evening news. In one of the videos linked above, the news team shoves a camera into a woman’s face as she’s stepping into the wagon. The reporter then shouts questions at the woman—this just after the reporter points out the possibility that the woman she’s humiliating and zooming in on may be a sex slave.

And about that balaclava. Yes, I realize the cop was probably protecting his identity. Take the hood off, and the next time he’s slabbed over a massage table, the 19-year-old Thai girl rubbing his back might recognize from TV, and decline to offer him extras. Thus ruining his investigation. He may also investigate other vice crimes, like narcotics, in which case revealing his identity could put him at risk. Understood. But here’s an easier way to protect your cover: Don’t call in the news cameras before you make your bust.

Look, I understand that cops enforce the laws, they don’t write them. And in this case it appears that (a) neighboring businesses were complaining, and (b) these massage parlors may have been engaged in sex trafficking. It’s hard to fault them for investigating (although in some of these massage parlor cases, the cops tend to investigate “to completion.”)

But how about some restraint? You’re “apprehending” 105-pound women here. Maybe you leave the ninja gear at home. Considering that you believe these women could be emotionally and/or physically abused, maybe you also do this bust quietly, bring along some social workers, and take the women away in vans. Maybe you have trained counselors talk to the women for a few hours before you give them the Whitey Bulger treatment. Then, once you have a better grasp on the nature of these businesses, you can hold yourself a press conference and bask in praise for keeping Houston safe from prostitutes.

You won’t get to go on TV dressed up in your riot gear that way. But you’ll at least know you’ve done your job with some professionalism—and some humanity.

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45 Responses to “Houston Is Safer Today”

  1. #1 |  nigmalg | 

    The masks are necessary. Can’t have the ladies recognizing their most frequent visitors. The shackles… sorry can’t keep the sarcasm going.


  2. #2 |  Bob | 

    That is, they may have been in the sex business involuntarily. We can’t know, he says, because they refuse to talk.

    Gee, I wonder why?

    Thus making any investigation into possible human smuggling much harder. How fucking stupid ARE these guys?

    And by “These guys” I don’t mean the arresting cops, they’re just hired thugs doing the only thing they know. No, I mean the police brass.

  3. #3 |  Whim | 

    Radley, wonderful commentary. The hooded balaclava is becoming the “brand” of the new, more-heavily up-gunned SWAT teams everywhere.

    To preserve their anonymity for……ABUSE OF THEIR OFFICE, perchance?

    One disputative issue: You afIirmed that “I understand that cops enforce the laws, they don’t write them.”

    Actually, they DO in fact play a major role in writing state laws.

    How? Because every state legislature has one or more police boot-lickers who receive a substantial amount of their campaign funding from the militant police unions. That’s how. They may in fact be FORMER policemen themselves, and they never met a new, harsher law that they didn’t just love.

    And, they are truly abject police boot-lickers, handing the police ever greater powers to abruptly and ruthlessly suppress our constitutional rights.

    FYI, VP Biden in his 35 years in the U.S. Senate was also an out-and-out police Boot Licker, repeatedly sponsoring legislation to give the police more power.

  4. #4 |  nigmalg | 

    maybe you also do this bust quietly, bring along some social workers, and take the women away in vans.

    No. They want to go home and furiously masterbate to themselves on prime time news. I’m 95% sure most of them will Tivo it.

  5. #5 |  nigmalg | 

    Actually, they DO in fact play a major role in writing state laws.

    Absolutely right. They lost the “we don’t write the laws” card when they actively send their brass, and unions, to lobby or actually… write a bill.

  6. #6 |  EH | 

    I can only hope that they wear the balaclavas out of shame.

  7. #7 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    you can hold yourself a press conference and bask in praise for keeping Houston safe from prostitutes.

    At least one kind of prostitute. And, just the very low income type.

  8. #8 |  Just Plain Brian | 

    the Whitey Bulger treatment

    Patiently wait until they come out to arrest them peacefully?

  9. #9 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Remember this was a “sting” operation, which means
    officers, in the course of their investigation, might have had to succumb to unwanted repeated penile stimulation or oral sex, even intercourse, in the course of their investigation. I feel bad for these brave troopers and the horrors they were exposed to, and the sacrifices they make, in these illicit sex dungeons.

  10. #10 |  Robert Hewes | 

    How the hell can people still applaud the cops? How is it not obvious to everyone that they’re at war with the American people?

  11. #11 |  Mattocracy | 

    With all this talk of the GOP waging a war against women, I wish they would include law enforcement and the media in there as well.

  12. #12 |  perlhaqr | 

    Look, I understand that cops enforce the laws, they don’t write them.

    Yeah, sorry, I have to object to this too. They like to make that claim, but it’s just not reasonable. Not when they place themselves so far into the loop on things like marijuana legalisation.

  13. #13 |  Doubleu | 

    #9, and the union made sure they received hazard pay for their work.

  14. #14 |  Lucy Steigerwald | 

    Well said, Radley.

  15. #15 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    And columns like this are exactly why I link you under “Friends of Whores”. My sincere thanks, Radley, and a big (sisterly) kiss if ever meet you in person.

  16. #16 |  zendingo | 

    hey, these guys are just trying to do a hard job and get home to their families

  17. #17 |  Bill Poser | 

    If these women are sex slaves and if Texas law forbids the identification of victims of sex crimes, the police have committed a crime. Furthermore, it is likely that some of these women are underaged, in which case, if Texas law forbids the identification of minors charged with crimes, the police have committed yet another crime.

  18. #18 |  JLA | 

    Houston, YOU got a problem!

  19. #19 |  Dave Krueger | 

    For the most part no one will ever know whether they were engaged in prostitution voluntarily or not because no one is interested in the truth. The fact that they are from other countries does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they are forced into it despite all the bullshit shoveled out by prostitution prohibitionists.

    The problem is that, when they are arrested, they can claim to be victims (forced into it) or they can claim to be doing it voluntarily (intentionally committing a crime). Which strategy do you think they are going to use? And that’s precisely why all prostitution is quickly being re-categorized as a crime against women. It’s pure politics on the part of moral crusaders. When it comes to law enforcement and anti-prostitution NGOs, the last thing you will hear is the truth. Their mission is to end prostitution and the ends justifies the means.

  20. #20 |  el coronado | 

    “Restraint”? In Houston?

    I gather you’ve never lived in Houston, laddybuck. *Nothing* in or about that city is restrained, least of all the cops.

  21. #21 |  Mario | 

    Years ago when I was in my early 20’s I was encouraged by some family members to become a cop. It’s a steady job and (in NYC) a good paycheck. There are any number of reasons why I decided not to do so, but factoring into it was the decision that there were just some laws I could not in conscience enforce (and actions by “brother” police officers that I could not support). I don’t think cops deserve a “just doing my job” free pass.

    Moreover, I think the fact that cops get pensions contributes to the Blue Code of Silence and the just-doing-my-job mentality that perpetuates bad law. If the retirement of police officers was funded by private plans (like a 401-K), you would see cops become disgusted with their jobs and leave, instead of the all to frequent alternative of sucking it up and counting the days until retirement.

    In short, some jobs shouldn’t be done, and we shouldn’t have public policies that contributes to the rank and file “going along to get along” and doing these despicable jobs.

  22. #22 |  KB | 

    Houston is safe from the tyranny of happy endings now. I’d say sleep better, but this will actually have the opposite effect.

  23. #23 |  Brian | 

    Once again we see that cops are cowards who like to pretend they’re Seal Team Six. You can almost sense their excitement at getting all decked out in their military gear and launching their make-believe special forces raid. But, it’s only ever against utterly defenseless targets like some WWII vets playing poker, or some guy growing marijuana in his mom’s basement or, now, massage parlors. Give them a real tactical situation like Columbine and they hide behind their cars until the shooting stops and kids are dead. They’re becoming self-parody which would be funny if it weren’t for the lives being ruined.

  24. #24 |  William | 

    The only kind of restraint the police understand is handcuffing someone so they can’t hit back.

  25. #25 |  Omri | 

    Look, I understand that cops enforce the laws, they don’t write them.”

    That’s news to me.

    From where I’m looking, cops and prosecutors have so much leeway on where to direct their resources, that while they don’t write the laws, they do erase those laws they don’t feel like enforcing.

    (Like securities fraud, for example).

  26. #26 |  Whim | 

    #23 Brian is exactly right. When a REALLLY dangerous situation occurred, the school resource officer at Columbine H.S. (a Deputy Sheriff) RAN AWAY when the firing started, leaving defenseless students and teachers to the two shooters.

    And, the SWAT team took so long to deploy @ Columbine H.S. that everyone, including the two teen-age psychos, were cold and dead, before they ever entered the school house.

    They did force those students fleeing the school to put their hands on their heads, though. Nice touch.

  27. #27 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Why is it society’s business with who what or how you have sex? The key issue here is consenting adults, was anyone in the establishment a minor,was there an establishment operative out on the street with an AR-15 forcing people inside? Than society has no skin in the game. This excessive use and abuse of force is only used as pornography for the tiny dicked cretins that compromise our police agencies. With all the problems America faces to waste taxpayer dollars in this manner is insane. This is another attempt for the morons in government to show their authority. What a sorry place America has become. Barney Fife with a revolver and one bullet could have raided this place yet in 21st cenytury America it requires swat teams body armour and a marine air strike. What a bunch of pathetic assholes.

  28. #28 |  contrarian | 

    “But, it’s only ever against utterly defenseless targets like some WWII vets playing poker, ”

    There are some pretty badass WWII vets. They may be getting on in years but still a force to be reckoned with.

  29. #29 |  Fred | 

    You said “tipped off the local news so it could all be put on TV”
    Ect. Ect Its real simple It is sweeps week. Goons + Victimless crime
    =ratings gold

  30. #30 |  appletony | 

    Radley, you are on fire! excellent post all around.
    People: I’ve been delinquent on my “subscription” payments, but I’m correcting it now. Mr. Balko deserves to earn a serious living from his work!

  31. #31 |  CyniCAl | 

    “I’ll take it under advisement … hit it again.” Hans, the villain from Die Hard.

    Yeah, the cops will take your op-ed under advisement Radley. There is no “kinder, gentler machine-gun hand.” Better that the cops are as brutal as possible — then there’s no mistaking the reality of the State.

  32. #32 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Once again, Barney Fife dresses up to play soldier when he could have just shown up in an ordinary uniform with a clipboard and written a ticket.


  33. #33 |  StrangeOne | 

    Adding to the “cops don’t write the laws they enforce them” contentions, I always point out to friends the dangers of police discretion with the following example.

    Everyone speeds on the highway. But the cops can only pull over so many cars, so many hours of the day. They have absolute discretion over who that law is applied to and who it isn’t applied to. The lawyer-ish looking guy driving 20+ the speed limit in a Mercedes my get a pass while the DWB teenager going five over doesn’t. Once they’ve made that decision they can then invent probable cause out of thin air. They same is true of all such petty crimes. Jaywalking, loitering, public disturbance, and a laundry list of other “offences” (that by themselves harm absolutely no one) are not in place for public safety. They are created by the government to serve as an omnipresent justification for policing.

    The cops may not write the laws, but by their very nature as enforcers they choose which laws exist and for whom. It’s a feature, not a bug.

  34. #34 |  Marcus David | 

    Best post and spot-on commentary I have seen in a long time. This is a recurrent Houston Police Department/other law enforcement extravaganza event that is staged about every 4-5 years. I remember identical raids for the past 30 yrs, at leasts. I’m getting old. The recurrent result is that nothing is ever done. The Korean Mafia simply regroups and re-opens elsewhere, a business cost factored in to the equation of doing business with the Harris County political-legal establishment. The police and DA’s get marketable publicity. The Korean crime syndicate earns the right for extended commercial privileges in H-town. Your commentary does a public service by showing the self serving hypocrisy of the legal “authorities.” They exploit these women just as much as their business partners do.

  35. #35 |  That Was the Week That Was (#18) « The Honest Courtesan | 

    […] Police in riot gear and masks saved Houston from evil harlots Thursday:  “At least six women were in custody…after prostitution stings at three…massage parlors…Investigators said most of the women who were arrested appeared to be under the age of 30 – some as young as teenagers…Investigators said…they were looking into whether any of the women may be victims of human trafficking.”  News flash:  Many Asian women look younger than most white women; those who “looked like teenagers” may have been much older.  The “trafficking” claims were obviously to head off valid criticism of the incredible waste  of this “raid”, but if they were sincere their actions are even more reprehensible, as pointed out in this must-read column from Radley Balko. […]

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  37. #37 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @21 – Why yes, the prospect of not being able to ever retire WOULD impact them, just like it does most Americans then.

    Pensions are evil for the 99%, etc. Typical Feral 1%…

  38. #38 |  LarryDierker | 

    As a Houston resident, I would like to add, that there are many of these ‘Massage Parlors’ all over the city. They even advertise in the free alternative press type newspapers.
    Once in a blue moon, the police have a big bust so that it appears something is being done about the situation.

  39. #39 |  gersan | 

    Well, at least those cops in ski masks hauling away frightened women in leg chains weren’t communists. Because it’s so much worse when commies do something like this. Gotta look at the bright side, Balko.

  40. #40 |  Belle Waring | 

    #19: plenty of people, like me, both favor legalizing prostitution and are very concerned about human trafficking. I’m sure the numbers are somewhat inflated for headline purposes, but it is a genuine problem and one that should be met with sympathy and social workers, not being paraded in front of everyone on TV by local cops. This is particularly true when the victims are underage. Think about it, the cops are arresting someone who has at the very least been the victim of statutory rape many times, and who is likely to have been coerced by her pimp into the present arrangement in some fashion. Where did all that giving a shit about sexual predators and child molestation go? Is every guy who has sex with an underage prostitute arrested and put on the “Chester the molestor” map so that Grandpa knows whom to shun? If not, why on earth not? (If you answer is that the list itself is 80% bullshit I am with you, but just let’s go with this.)

    I think people should be free to be sex workers, though this is one of those “actually existing communism” problems: pretty much everywhere I’ve ever seen, violence, kidnapping and rape are a crucial part of getting anyone to be a prostitute. And right now the cops make life hardest for the prostitutes and harder for them the lower down the social scale they fall.

    If the cops went after the johns and pimps and financiers exclusively, and actually put enough effort into it to repeatedly bust powerful and socially prominent men, maybe we’d see some movement towards legalization. In real life we’d just see cops getting fired. But in my imaginary feminist utopia in which men and women are equally powerful, women and men will be free to work as sex workers once they reach majority because, hey, it’s not my business. Also, sex is fun, if people want to pay each other to engage in it, then great, some people are having fun, while others make money, it’s win-win.

  41. #41 |  SayUncle » Have to justify all that ninja gear | 

    […] Houston police load up their tactical vests, face-coverings, thigh holsters and machine guns and raid a handjob hut. […]

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  44. #44 |  Nick | 

    Why doesn’t anyone talk about THIS in reference to the supposed “War on Women”? Here you have actual people dressed up like soldiers going after women. At least there were guns involved.

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