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Experts advise Forest Park on adult businesses

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The City of Forest Park brought in experts from as far away as California and Texas to discuss the secondary effects of adult businesses on the community. On Tuesday, the city council was briefed on case studies from cities in nearly a dozen states - information the city intends to use to craft an air-tight, adult business ordinance.

In a two-and-a-half hour meeting, council members got statistical data, affidavits from former strip-club dancers, and studies from cities such as Phoenix, Ariz., Daytona Beach, Fla., Centralia, Wash., and Montrose, Ill. A criminologist, a private investigator, and a growth consultant advised the city to use empirical data from other areas when crafting its laws regarding adult businesses.

Richard McCleary, a professor of social ecology at the University of California, Irvine, said that areas with adult businesses tend to have higher incidences of crime because they attract "soft targets," who are less likely to report incidents to the police. "Sexually oriented businesses attract people from a wide catchment area," McCleary said. "These people are attractive, high-value targets. They are disproportionately male ... they carry cash or they have access to cash, and, most importantly of all, when they are victimized, they are a little embarrassed ... and so they are extremely reluctant to involve the police."

McCleary cited studies from Greensboro, N.C., showing a correlation between the risk of victimization and the proximity to 29 adult businesses in the city. He said things such as regulations on lighting, visibility, raised stages, parking, private booths, touching, and licensing make businesses easier to police, thus minimizing the potential for crime.

Guy Watkins, a Marietta-based private investigator, shared accounts from a 2005 investigation into strip clubs on behalf of the City of Sandy Springs. In his investigation, he found that one particular club in question had several incidents of "patrons being beaten by bouncers" and dancers soliciting illegal sexual services.

Connie Cooper, owner of the Dallas, Texas-based Cooper Consulting Company, Inc., said adult businesses tend to lower property values. "Sexually-oriented businesses have a measurable impact on the value of nearby property," Cooper said. "You have to write these ordinances to include those secondary effects."

Members of the adult-business community spoke out at the meeting, citing some of the city's own crime statistics as evidence businesses like the Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon pose no threat to Forest Park. "You are trying to find evidence to rationalize what you did back in March, because you didn't have it back in March," said Aubrey Villines, an attorney representing the Crazy Horse Saloon. "In your own comprehensive plan, crime statistics from 1998 to 2003 dropped every year from 1998. I just read last week that crime went down 18 percent [from last year]. There are no adverse secondary effects to this."

"If something happens and the club shuts down, I don't know what will happen to my children ... I don't have anybody but myself," said Shariest Drayton, a dancer for six years at the Crazy Horse Saloon. "Contrary to popular belief, we do have a lot of good people who work there."

Some Forest Park residents expressed concern that the efforts of the city council to address adult businesses are misguided, and that more focus should be placed on economic development.

"I just feel like we are wasting money we don't have, needlessly," said Margaret Brown, referring to two recent lawsuits filed against the city by adult businesses. "I am not for strip clubs, or them serving this stuff to my children, [but] look at the houses in the city that are vacant. We have to wake up and say where our money is needed."

"I didn't feel like they presented any data anybody didn't know," said Trudy Smith. "I think it's a travesty that they didn't canvas the city to see how we feel about it. If the Pink Pony and Crazy Horse need to be there, then they are in the best possible place they can be."

Joe Harris, an attorney representing the City of Forest Park, said the meeting will be useful in helping the city craft an adult ordinance "more defensible" than the ordinance the city passed in March.

"It's pretty clear that there are secondary effects in terms of adult businesses," Harris said. "We have addressed these somewhat, but since we reviewed this, we've been sued twice. One suit said you didn't have enough findings. We brought these people here just to be safe.

"The next step is that we are going to go over the ordinance with a fine-tooth comb," he added. "It will be even more defensible than it was."