In San Diego, adult entertainment establishments such as strip clubs must be licensed by the city. But police enforcement of the city's licensing codes has led to egregious violations of the 4th Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In three raids on two strip clubs — Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club and Club Expose — police detained the licensed, nearly nude dancers and photographed them against their will and without their permission — actions beyond the scope of the city's licensing laws. Notably, none of the dancers was detained in connection with a criminal allegation or investigation.
Some 30 dancers have now sued the city and the San Diego Police Department, accusing them of false imprisonment and conducting unreasonable searches, among other things. Small potatoes, you think? No, it isn't. Police violating the U.S. Constitution under the guise of regulatory enforcement should never be tolerated, no matter the victim or the circumstances.
The way San Diego handles adult entertainer licenses raises a separate line of questions about government overreach. Should a city government be telling owners of strip clubs, which are legal businesses, whom they can hire? The San Diego law says a dancer with a prostitution-related conviction in the previous five years can be denied a license. In addition, anyone applying for a license must "furnish … photographs as specified by the chief of police," a description of themselves, documented proof that the applicant is at least 18 years old and five years of previous residential addresses. Applicants must also reveal whether they have had a similar license revoked by another jurisdiction in the previous five years.
Although the law says club owners must submit to spot inspections during which the dancers must produce a valid license, the law does not say police can detain and photograph licensed workers. In the lawsuit, the dancers accuse police officers of refusing to let them leave backstage areas until they had been photographed, and ordering the women "to expose body parts so that they could ostensibly photograph their tattoos."
Police officials have defended their actions as mandated by city codes. But there's a big difference between a site inspection and the detention and forced photo sessions of semi-naked workers. San Diego needs to school its police in exactly what the laws they are enforcing say, and more significantly, in what protections its citizens enjoy under the 4th Amendment. No matter what kind of work the citizens do.