New York’s Port Authority Police Department will end its practice of sending plainclothes officers into public bathrooms to catch people propositioning others for sex. These so-called public lewdness patrols have long been criticized by activists claiming that they target gay men.
The decision came as part of a settlement earlier this month resolving a lawsuit brought by two men who were arrested as a result of such patrols. Critics of the practice claim that these types of stings targeted men who were perceived to be gay by officers in an effort to inflate their arrest statistics.
As part of the settlement, new recruits to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department will also receive LGBTQ sensitivity training for the next three years.
The lawsuit named Cornell Holden and Miguel Mejia, who were both charged with public lewdness. Both claimed they were falsely accused by officers of masturbating while standing at urinals in Port Authority Bus Terminal restrooms. Holden and Mejia were cleared of all charges according to the Associated Press.
“This kind of blatant homophobia has no place in policing, and the reforms achieved in this lawsuit aim to safeguard against future abuses like the ones experienced and challenged by Mr. Holden and Mr. Mejia,” Molly Griffard, an attorney for The Legal Aid Society, which represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Port Authority officials denied any misconduct, but the practice of entrapping people in public bathrooms has been common for years. In 2017, another class-action suit accused Port Authority police officers of engaging in discrimination by falsely arresting men perceived as gay at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on baseless charges including public lewdness and exposure. The New York Daily News reported that the urinals in the terminal’s bathrooms have privacy walls — which should block prying eyes “under any definition of normal circumstances,” according to the suit. The paper reported that the officers stare at their targets while they’re using the urinal.
“In some cases, the officer will actually step back from the urinal in order to see around the privacy wall, in an effort to view the target’s hands and genitals,” said the lawyers in the 2017 complaint, a claim echoed by Holden and Mejia’s description of their arrests.
In 2018, William Campbell sued New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority after he was humiliated and arrested while trying to use the bathroom in Grand Central Terminal. Campbell said an MTA police officer tried to induce him to have sex and despite being rejected, the cop arrested him without cause.