The Battle Over A Proposed New Strip Club In Hartford's North Meadows Goes To The Heart Ofthe Debate Over Whether Adult Business Cause Crime.
December 21, 2006
By MEIR RINDE, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
The city’s sex shop district, such as it is, is on a stretch of West Service Road in the North Meadows, amid car dealerships, vacant buildings, motels and the constant low roar of I-91 across the street. Hartford’s police headquarters and the mountainous regional trash dump are close by. The sex businesses include the city’s one strip joint and two retail shops selling toys and DVDs.
It’s a desolate area. Customers drive in, do their business, and drive away. The shops are sequestered in a remote neighborhood away from homes, parks and churches on the theory that the businesses have a secondary effect of causing crime.
That’s the theory, at least.
“They bring in, for lack of a better term, people who commit vice-type crimes: prostitution, drug-related situations,” Police Chief Daryl Roberts said recently. “You wouldn’t want it in a residential neighborhood because of the clientele that they draw in.”
The legal theory of secondary crime effects is used around the country to defend curbs on adult businesses, but it is now being challenged by the owner of a property on Weston Street, around the corner from West Service Road, and a businessman who wants to open an “adult cabaret” there. They say that the argument is based on false premises.
The two have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. A federal judge scheduled the trial to begin this week.
After Daniel Quinn, the owner of several stores in Connecticut that sell pornography and adult novelties, proposed opening the new strip club last year, the Zoning Board of Appeals shot the plan down because the club would have been within 1,000 feet of residences, in violation of a city ordinance. His lawyer argued the rule should be waived because the residents were blocked from direct access to Weston Street by railroad tracks, but the argument was rejected.
Attorney Daniel Silver, who often represents adult businesses, filed the civil rights suit on behalf of Quinn’s company in U.S. District Court in July, arguing that Hartford’s ordinance restricting the location of the businesses is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that nude dancing and pornographic publications are constitutionally protected expression, even as it has allowed location restrictions and other requirements, like pasties that cover dancers’ nipples.
Cities and states are not allowed to target strip clubs just because they don’t like stripping — that would be illegal censorship, the court says — but they are permitted to have restrictions that prevent crime, the so-called secondary effect. That’s how Hartford and other cities are able to get away with limiting adult businesses to a few fringe areas.
The Supreme Court has stuck with the idea of secondary effects for 20 years. Lower courts have had qualms, ruling for example that an old study of crime patterns in one city can’t be used later as an argument for banning an adult business in another city, but the high court overruled that finding.
Neither Silver nor the lawyer for the city, Assistant Corporation Counsel Ann Bird, returned phone calls from the Advocate , but in the federal lawsuit Silver appears to be trying anew to undermine the secondary effects argument.
Hartford’s restrictions on free speech are “not supported by any competent evidence,” Silver wrote. The location restrictions “were adopted based upon an insufficient evaluation of facts or evidence that these provisions are justified on the basis of combating ‘secondary effects’ which are perceived to be produced by an ‘adult cabaret’ as defined by the Hartford Municipal Code.”
In other words, Silver is arguing there’s no proof that strip clubs in Hartford cause crime.
Silver is likely to buttress his argument with the findings of academics like Daniel Linz, a communications professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has become a hero to adult business owners. In articles circulated by the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association of the adult entertainment industry, and published in scholarly journals, Linz argues that secondary effects may not exist.
In a 2004 article about Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, Linz and his co-authors compared crime data from 1998 to 2000 for areas around adult erotic dance clubs and around other businesses, like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and found the adult clubs did not have higher crime rates. “Indeed, the analyses imply the opposite, namely, that the nearby areas surrounding the adult business sites have smaller numbers of reported crime incidents,” they wrote. One club, Baby Dolls, had no reported crimes within 1,000 feet during this period.
While Chief Roberts said adult businesses engender vice crimes, his comments suggested the industry in Hartford has taken the secondary effects argument to heart.
“I don’t know if [adult businesses] raise crime,” he said. “We get some activity over there, but for the most part they try to keep it clean because if they get involved in serious crime and crime goes up, they’re going to get shut down. They know that. Their livelihood is affected so they try to keep a lid on it.”
Attacking the idea of secondary effects may be Silvers’ best chance at swaying the District Court, and eventually the Supreme Court if the case goes that far. As Linz and his co-authors noted in their article about Charlotte, the high court had a fractured decision in one of its more recent adult cases, a 2000 dispute between the city of Erie, Pennsylvania and a club called Kandyland. Justice David Souter said he was no longer willing to assume the businesses cause crime.
“Justice Souter said he was now of the opinion that the evidence of a relationship between adult businesses and negative secondary effects is at best inconclusive,” the article says. “He called into question the reliability of past studies that purported to demonstrate these effects and suggested that municipalities wishing to ban nudity must show evidence of a relationship between adult businesses and negative effects.”.