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Cruising For Trouble 

Men cruising for men cause problems for neighbors, police and the outed gay community

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"These men fear the loss of their job and loss of security in life, but they're looking for it so hard, the desperation is there so much that they are willing to put up with the risk of arrest," said King. "They are left with cruising places like the overlook which makes the people who live nearby feel like they are in danger."

Airport police stretched thin

The whole situation is indeed rough on cruising spots' neighbors, as well as the cruisers themselves and, if they are caught, their families. But it also leaves people like police, park officials and airport Aviation Director Jerry Orr in a tough position. Orr says he is well aware of the numerous phone calls his office has had from area residents complaining about the problem, many of who say that Orr didn't return their calls.

"It's a huge problem," says Orr. "I don't know what could be done about it. We could close the overlook down. That solves the problem but it is rather draconian."

Orr says the airport police, which have jurisdiction over the overlook, are understaffed and too consumed with post-September 11 security issues to address the problem. The airport's 26 uniformed officers are responsible for patrolling the entire 6,000 acres over which the airport sprawls.

"They spend most of their time doing FAA security functions," says Orr. Orr says that he would be willing to work with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to solve the problem. Officers say that the department's vice unit has conducted sting operations there in the past, but that the problem always returns.

Robert, an area resident who lives off Walkers Ferry Road, says he called Orr to complain after he saw a man at the overlook wearing only yellow bikini underwear as he drove by with his young daughter in the car.

"It's not that they can't do anything about it, they just won't," Robert says. "It's just a matter of patrolling the area."

But even Robert, who says he doesn't like gay people -- they have a severe problem, he says -- understands the situation Orr is in. As much as Robert would like to feel comfortable taking his family up to the overlook, he says that cracking down on the men won't get rid of the problem, but will just move it elsewhere. And since September 11, he says, he doubts the cruising at the overlook is a high priority for Orr.

How high a priority clearing cruisers out of parks and other public places is for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is hard to tell. The department doesn't keep statistics on how many arrests its sting operations garner and is close-lipped about how many sting operations it conducts.

Major KD Williams refused to tell Creative Loafing how officers conduct sting operations to catch cruisers. When asked why he would not divulge this information, he said, "Because I just don't want to."

"We are not going to discuss our tactics with the media," he said. Other officers were more willing to talk provided we didn't use their names. They say the department typically conducts sting operations after receiving large numbers of complaints from area residents near a park or other public place. The officers' concern, they say, is not just the complaints or the cruising itself, but the prostitution, theft, drug activity and possible assault they say often goes along with it.

Sometimes officers say they get lucky and stumble upon men in the act, but most of the time cops have to go undercover to catch cruisers. Contrary to the way cops say they are often stereotyped, the job of undercover cruiser isn't exactly a popular one. The guy who winds up with it usually takes a fair amount of ribbing from his fellow officers. Often it is younger, attractive cops of lower rank or seniority who are selected. They dress somewhat seductively, in tight t-shirts and pants. They claim they systematically wander the area in question until they're propositioned, then they make an arrest.

But two officers who've participated in these stings say it's not something they're comfortable with. It's sometimes awkward, they say, and they're often afraid that the department won't back them if an arrest leads to negative media attention.

Old laws and public humiliation

They're right to worry. John Boddie, an attorney who is the board chairman of the North Carolina ACLU, says his organization is looking for a test case to challenge the state's crime against nature laws. According to state court interpretation, anal and oral sex are illegal for both heterosexuals and homosexuals in North Carolina. But gay activists insist that the law, which they call stupid, is unevenly enforced and used to target gay men, in part because police have so few legal tools at their disposal to clear out popular public cruising places.

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