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Saturday, October 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seven dancers cited for illegal behavior

Seattle Times staff reporters

Seven strippers have been tagged for illegal lewd behavior in the past week, shortly before city voters will decide whether tough new rules should be imposed on strip clubs.

Seattle police called the actions routine enforcement, but a strip-club attorney who opposes the rules questioned the timing.

"There have been no police actions at the clubs for months and months, and it strikes me as incredibly curious that all of a sudden out of the clear blue sky they're out arresting people for doing essentially nothing," said Gil Levy, who represents Rick's strip club on Lake City Way.

"It raises a strong suspicion that the police are playing politics with public dollars," Levy said.

Capt. Dan Oliver, head of the police department's vice unit, dismissed the allegation, saying that after taking the job six weeks ago and studying statistics, he noticed the department was long overdue to check the clubs.

Police have been placing a higher priority on street prostitution in recent years.

On Tuesday night, vice detectives issued misdemeanor citations to five dancers at Rick's for illegal touching of customers and accepting money for an illegal act while performing lap dances. Three were also cited for nudity, which is allowed only on stage, and for caressing or fondling themselves.

Oliver would not say if detectives witnessed illegal touching or personally experienced it in an undercover role. He said he didn't want to reveal investigative techniques.

On Thursday night, detectives booked two strippers at the Sands in Ballard for similar violations.

Seattle voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to let stand restrictions on strip clubs approved by the City Council last year.

The new rules call for dancers to leave a minimum of four feet between themselves and customers, a move strip clubs and dancers say would harm business by eliminating lap dances. Bright lights would be required and no dances would be allowed in private areas.

A vote of "approved" would keep the rules, which are not being enforced pending the election. A vote of "rejected" would overturn the restrictions.

Seattle City Council President Nick Licata, chair of the council's police oversight committee, criticized the police actions, saying, "There's more visible crime on Aurora Avenue and Lake City Way and instead we're arresting women for dancing nude."

But Licata said that doesn't mean the police activity was politically motivated.

"I know Dan Oliver," Licata said. "He's a straight arrow, and I'm sure [he] doesn't like these places. I'd give them the benefit of the doubt."

Oliver, who cracked down on street prostitution when he previously headed the North Precinct, said the actions this week represented typical police activity, where officers periodically deal with an issue they can't enforce all the time.

Levy, the club attorney, said police should act when violations occur. But "these arrests appear to have been made to attempt to influence the outcome of the election," he said.

Seattle Times reporter Bob Young contributed to this report.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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