HONOLULU - Honolulu police told a key Hawaii lawmaker Tuesday that they're OK with making it expressly illegal for officers to have sex with prostitutes as long as undercover officers can still say they'll have sex so they can make arrests.
Honolulu police spokeswoman Teresa Bell told The Associated Press on Tuesday that officers have never been allowed to have sex with prostitutes under departmental rules, so making it illegal won't change how officers operate.
"That's exactly what we wanted and how we've been conducting our investigations - with the verbal offer," Bell said.
Bell said officers who submitted written and oral testimony to a House committee earlier in the legislative session met Tuesday with Sen. Clayton Hee, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Hee's committee is considering a bill cracking down on prostitution. The bill passed the House without a clause that would have made sex with prostitutes illegal for officers after police lobbied to have the language removed, arguing that it would inhibit undercover investigations by giving criminals knowledge of what police can and cannot do.
At a Senate hearing last week, lawmakers and members of the public expressed outrage at the exemption after the AP reported on police officers' lobbying to keep it unchanged. Hee vowed at the hearing to make the practice illegal.
Hee told the AP on Tuesday that the meeting with police ended with a mutual understanding that the exemption ran contrary to popular opinion. He said the version of the bill that moves through his committee Friday will remove sexual penetration from the police exemption from prostitution laws, leaving police with the ability to solicit sex in the course of an investigation.
"I suppose that in retrospect the police probably feel somewhat embarrassed about this whole situation," Hee said. "But, thankfully, the issue has been brought to light and the behavior has been addressed.
"The police support the idea that sexual penetration shall not be an exempt permitted behavior by the police in making arrests on prostitutes," Hee said. "They agree this tool is not an appropriate tool for their toolbox."
Officers who have sex with prostitutes are subject to internal investigation and, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of being fired or suspended, Bell said. But Bell said the department did not know of any cases in recent memory in which an officer was disciplined for having sexual contact with a prostitute.
Bell said the department thought the clause they pushed to be removed from the bill was too vague.
Hawaii's current anti-prostitution law includes the exemption, "This section shall not apply to any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties."
The clause that was removed reads, "unless the action includes sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse."