From public sex acts, ongoing prostitution, gambling and underage drinking and smoking, the Glendale Police Department's Vice Detail handles it all. Det. Matthew Prokosch, 34, along with another detective and a sergeant, make up the detail, and works a beat that requires patience and an open mind to deal with the city's most seediest and bizarre crimes.
Veronica Rocha: So, what are some of the operations you do in Vice Detail?
Det. Matthew Prokosch: We do a lot of John stings, that's when we have undercover female police officers posing as prostitutes and walking the streets. They get approached by John's, or male clients, and if a violation of 647(b), which is prostitution — agreeing to engage in a sexual act in exchange for money — occurs, we arrest them. We also do prostitution stings, where we focus on prostitutes staying in the city of Glendale, operating out of Glendale, and we go undercover acting as customers ... We also have a lot of [Alcohol Beverage Control] code violations. We do a lot of checks of establishments with ABC licenses, making sure they are up to date and current with the laws and regulations of ABC.
Q: So, did you ever think that you would one day be posing as a John, dealing with prostitutes and going undercover at illegal massage parlors?
A: When I first became a police officer, no. However, when I joined the Vice/Narcotics Detail, I knew that was part of the job description — that in order to conduct vice operation I might have to pose as a John or customer. Yeah, I expected it.
Q: How common are some of these crimes that the Vice Detail deals with?
A: They are more common than normal citizens would think are occurring in Glendale. You have prostitution at the local motels that occurs on a daily basis. ... Gambling and prostitution — it goes on a lot more than what normal citizens of Glendale would think and those are the problems we try to focus on.
Q: Which is the most common?
A: Most common, I would have to say prostitution.
Q: Before you go undercover for a sting, what do you do to prepare? Do you have any kind of ritual?
A: Although there isn't a great chance for violence occurring, undercover is still undercover. You always get nervous about going undercover because you actually are posing as somebody you are not. I really don't have a ritual, but I just go over in my mind the set story that I tell them of what I do, or the reason for me being there. I just make sure that equipment-wise, I am all prepared. I have my wire, my ID, my fake ID, and my badge is not with me.
Q: Has the wire ever failed on you?
A: One time.
Q: What happened?
A: We were just doing a prostitution case. I was inside, for some reason the wire was on, and before that and after that it worked fine. For a period of a couple of minutes, Sgt. [Scott] Johnstone said he couldn't hear me.
Q: After you conduct these stings, how do you unwind?
A: Take a shower. Everything we do is very fluid. There isn't that much time to unwind. For me, I use the weekend to unwind. During the work week, it's just fluid. Things happen right after another, so you really don't have time to sit and replay what happened.
Q: What's the strangest thing that anyone has ever offered you?
A: A lot of vice crimes occur in the city that people don't know about. At the Glendale Galleria, there is a bathroom in a part of the mall. It's a children's clothing section and there is a men's bathroom that these cruisers use. Cruisers are basically gay males that enjoy meeting other gay males out in public places to engage in sexual acts, which is obviously illegal. We had information that this type of activity was happening at a public bathroom in the Glendale Galleria. I went inside to act as a decoy and there were three stalls and pretty soon, two other males came in and occupied the stalls to my right, so everybody was in a separate stall. And there are some things that go on to indicate that you are interested. These males meet in the bathroom and when you meet in the bathroom, basically the only thing you could see is the person's feet. So if you tap your feet and the other person taps their feet back, that means you guys are both there to engage in sexual acts ... So he tapped his foot and I tapped my foot, then I see a hand coming from underneath the stall and kind of waving me over. I knew he wanted me to come to his stall, but I wasn't going. I kind of waved him over to my stall. Pretty soon, all I see is the naked bottom portion of a man sliding over to my stall. At that point, obviously a violation has occurred. He got up to walk out of his stall and when I was walking out, there was a little kid in there with his father using one of the urinals. These guys are doing these acts in front of little kids. And I was passing by, the door was open and this male was engaged in giving oral sex to this male in the stall to the right of them ... And he basically slid the bottom portion of his body toward me, expecting me to do something to him. So this type of thing goes on all the time.
Q: Is Glendale known for that?
A: Glendale is not. However, the Galleria and the shopping store bathroom is known for that and is very popular on a website, advertising that it's a good place to meet. Since then, we have spoken with the management of the shopping center and they put up dividers, where it would be very difficult for anyone to go into another person's stall without coming out first.
Q: So has it stopped?
A: It has not stopped. However, it's been slowed down a lot because we have done stings afterward and still make some arrests. It used to be really rampant.
Q: I guess you never know. So, how many illegal massage parlors has the Vice Detail busted in Glendale?
A: There is none now. But in the past ... there was seven.
Q: Where were they mostly located?
A: There were four near the foothills and three downtown.
Q: By looking at the exterior of a massage parlor, is there any way to tell that one is illegal? If so what are the signs?
A: Based on training and experience ... the illegal ones will have neon lining signs and they will also advertise acupuncture or acupressure. And they will offer shiatsu and from my past experience, those are illegal.
Q: Are there any other strange underground activity that people engage in here in Glendale?
A: Yes, since the Internet has become more and more rampant, people will post on certain websites, saying that on this day and time 'I will be at this business' bathroom, and come and meet me for some sexual act.' Ninety-nine percent, it's all public places that they want to meet at, like public showers and public bathrooms.
Q: In your vice experience, what's the saddest incident that you have ever encountered?
A: One time we were doing a John sting in a hotel on Colorado [Street] and we saw something strange, so we started an investigation on it. Basically, it was two pimps with two underage girls that they were using as their prostitutes. It was sad because these girls, either they ran away from their homes or something happened where they were staying at a halfway home or foster home and ran away from there, and they choose to ... work for this guy ... That had an impact because these young girls, they really didn't have a chance to begin with and really weren't old enough to make that decision. And I think it was sad that they got into that kind of profession at such a young age.
Q: You see a lot and you do a lot, when you go home at night, do you hold your son a little tighter?
A: We see a lot out there. Bad things and some good things. But I am always thankful for what I have. I am always thankful for my son. Being in this job, it makes you more thankful for what you have because you go out there and see a lot of things.