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Posted: 2:57 a.m. Friday, Jan. 27, 2012

Tulsa City Council passes new massage ordinance designed to combat prostitution

The measure was strongly supported by police

krmg tulsa massage law
krmg tulsa massage law

By Russell Mills

TULSA, Okla. —

The Tulsa City Council passed an ordinance Thursday night designed to crack down on massage businesses that actually serve as fronts for the sale of sex.

The ordinance, which goes into effect in March, will require massage businesses to be licensed and to keep track of their employees to ensure they're also licensed.

It also requires the businesses to keep a record of their customers.

The law is a tool police say has been badly needed for years.

In 2002 the city decided its ordinance regulating massage business owners was not enforceable, so the decision was made to regulate massage technicians and therapists as individuals, and allow the industry to regulate itself.

Police say that experiment failed, and resulted in a explosion of prostitution posing as massage.

Sgt. Todd Evans runs the Tulsa Police Vice Unit.

In an interview conducted last November, when the measure was heard before the previous city council, he told KRMG that including himself, his unit has five officers.

In addition to investigating massage businesses, they also battle street prostitutes, track down Internet prostitutes, engage in undercover drug investigations and help clean up meth labs.

"There's no ordinance in place that governs the businesses that conduct massages in the city of Tulsa," Sgt. Evans told KRMG during that November interview. "Prostitution is kind of running rampant in the massage industry."

Without an ordinance, if an undercover officer was propositioned for sex, he could have arrested the worker, but couldn't have gone after the owner.

The owners or operators of the business would claim ignorance of the prostitution going on inside their businesses and because no law required them to monitor their employees' activities, there was little police could do.

"It was the wild, wild west," Council Chairman G.T. Bynum told KRMG Thursday night.

The measure came up during the final meeting of the previous city council and former councilor Chris Trail badly wanted it passed before he left office.

When the council voted to delay the measure to give legitimate massage business owners a chance to respond and comment, he became angry, so angry that in front of several people, he actually cursed at Bynum, venting his frustration.

Bynum, who said at the time he'd follow through on the ordinance, told KRMG Thursday that the credit for passing the ordinance belongs to Trail.

He said had it not been for the previous councilor's work, the ordinance would not have passed.

District 4 Councilor Blake Ewing had also promised to see the measure through on the new council.

Thursday night, he pushed for an amendment that would prevent anyone from getting a massage license for life if they were convicted of prostitution.

That amendment didn't pass and the measure calls for a waiting period of five years for a misdemeanor and ten years for a felony conviction before someone can apply for a license.

The convictions do not have to be for sexually-related crimes.

Ewing told KRMG he's satisfied with the outcome.

"I think it's great for Tulsa. This is something a lot of people put a lot of work into, especially the folks from the Tulsa police department and city staff."

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