Park decoy patrol designed as deterrent

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Mike DuPre'
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
— The 67-year-old man from Florida was apprehensive about the two men he met in Carver-Roehl Park last Thursday, but that didn’t stop him from asking one of them for sexual activity.

He didn’t get what he asked for.

Instead, he was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Mike, one of the two decoy officers deployed by the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, explained that the man had not exposed himself, but had grabbed his own crotch as he asked Mike to expose himself.

If the man had flashed Mike, he would have been arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior, the sheriff’s officer explained.

“He’s leery of him,” Mike said of his fellow decoy, Steve. “He’s leery of me. He knows there have been undercover arrests. But he’s still out here.

“That tells me it’s a compulsion.”

Compulsion or not, having sex or exposing oneself in a public place is illegal, and the Rock County Sheriff’s Office is out to deter the activity.

The decoy operation last week was the latest of four this summer.

It was part of the sheriff’s office’s effort to keep illegal and undesirable activity out of a park with a reputation for anonymous homosexual liaisons but a park that the neighbors have been trying to reclaim for years.

“We’re not targeting these people for their sexual preference,” said Sgt. Josh Lund of the sheriff’s office. “We’re trying to make the park safe for the residents.”

If two people—male or female—met at the park and decided to have sex some other, private place, that’s their prerogative and a not law enforcement issue, Lund said.

While deputies on regular park patrol have issued tickets for underage drinking and littering, “the main problem down there (Carver-Roehl Park) is sexual activity,” Lund said.

Sheriff Bob Spoden reiterated that sexual activity, not sexual preference, is the target of decoy operations at Carver-Roehl Park and at rest stops on Interstate 90/39 in Rock County.

His office is trying to underline the message to the thrill- and sex-seekers: “This kind of behavior is not accepted in our parks. It's not because it's gay sex. It's because it's inappropriate sexual behavior in a public park. …

“The bottom line is that we intend to make sure families and go to Carver-Roehl Park and enjoy the park at any time of year without seeing offensive or illegal behavior,” the sheriff said.

Neighbors appreciate the sheriff’s office’s efforts.

“I think they do a very good job as far as patrolling the situation,” said Ruth Inman, treasurer of Friends of Carver-Roehl Park, the group that started five years ago, soon after the anonymous sexual liaisons made headlines.

“I think the frequency of inappropriate behavior seems to be less,” Inman said. “I judge that by the number of families going down there for picnics and walking the trails.

“Our main goal is for families to enjoy the park,” Inman said.

Carver-Roehl Park is on Carver’s Rock Road just north of Creek Road in Bradford Township. Besides a paved drive, picnic tables and restrooms, the secluded park has trails looping through woods and over creek beds that bubble with water in the spring but are now dry.

The park has been listed as on Web sites as a preferred location for anonymous homosexual hookups.

On the day of the decoy operation, the park was little used over about a six-hour period.

Besides the man arrested, a couple of teen boys drove a pickup in and unloaded bicycles for a ride around the area. A mother brought her kids in to use the restrooms, and a couple of drivers simply looped the park’s drive and left.

A reporter and photographer for The Janesville Gazette sat camouflaged in the woods. Nearby, deputy Dave Rossmiller, decked out head-to-boots in camo, watched from hiding and talked by radio to the two decoy officers.

Rossmiller’s job was to provide security in case anyone threatened the decoy officers. Lund was out of the park in an unmarked squad car, waiting to arrest anyone the decoy officers alerted him to.

The officers prefer to make the arrests as traffic stops out of the park so as not to cause scenes and to keep their cover intact.

The Gazette agreed to use only the first names of the decoys. They were armed and carried police radios.

Lund would disagree with Inman on who uses the park and how often.

“People know about it (anonymous sex) so decent people don’t use the park,” he said. “Very seldom do you see families use the park.”

But the frequency of anonymous liaisons appears to be down—at least from the number of arrests. Last year, four men were arrested in the park. The number this year so far is two.

Some might say that four officers on overtime for four shifts is a steep price to pay for two misdemeanor arrests, but Michael Chase, perhaps the park’s closest neighbor, thinks his tax dollars are being well spent.

Asked about the decoy operations, Chase said: “I like it. I think it’s effective.”

A neighbor for nine years, Chase said he saw men engaged in sex on a park trail two years ago.

“I go over there every day or every other day,” Chase said. “I’ve seen crap, and it disgusts me.”

He said he is seeing less one-on-one activity, “but what I’ve seen is single, older guys sitting in cars waiting for who knows what.”

But Chase thinks the park environment has improved.

“I think it’s a combination of sheriff’s patrols and the signs, the Neighborhood Watch signs: You’re being watched,” Chase said. “When I go there, I want to be seen as watching because I walk around the perimeter of the parking area.

“If I see cars, I go look at the vehicle, and they can see I can see their license plates. Nine times out of 10, they take off. I rarely call the sheriff’s department,” Chase said.

“I’m pleased with the improvements in the park.”

Cops see creepy duty as part of the job

“It’s weird, sitting in the bathroom, hearing the footsteps approach. You’re not sure what’s coming.”

So said Steve, a Rock County sheriff’s deputy and one of two deputies acting as decoys in a recent operation targeting public sex in Carver-Roehl Park.

Steve and Mike acted as decoys last week. They were armed and had radios and another deputy sat camouflaged in the woods as backup. A sheriff’s office sergeant waited in an unmarked car outside the park to arrest offenders away from the decoy operation.

“It’s a little disturbing to have a 60-something guy talk about my sexy legs,” Mike said.

The Janesville Gazette agreed to use only the decoys’ first names to preserve their cover for future operations. They have been decoys at Carver-Roehl Park before and have recognized some men whose apparent behavior is to continually cruise the park for sex, but the men generally have steered clear of the decoys.

The deputies think the activity is an obsession and part of a culture of anonymous sex between men, many of whom have wives or other heterosexual partners.

And, Mike said, “In speaking to them, many have a history of abuse as children. My guess is that they’re not only finding a sexual thrill but also re-enacting a situation from their youth, and now they voluntarily take the active role in those situations.

“In their minds, they’re being the person in control rather than not in control. But that’s just my guess,” Mike said.

“A lot of them seem to be married, so it’s an extracurricular activity. Most probably see themselves as heterosexual, but it’s thrill-seeking behavior.

“There is a fraternity out there,” Mike said. “People know each other; they recognize each other. They might want to have experiences with new people, but they find a sense of security with the people they know.”

Evidence of the brotherhood of thrill-seekers is that officers on decoy duty have seen some men apparently acting as lookouts for others.

Popular times for anonymous liaisons are the lunch hour and from 3 to 6 p.m., when people get off work. The deputies think many of the thrill-seekers are looking for anonymous sex with no strings attached as a quick diversion. The gender of their partners doesn’t matter.

Sgt. Josh Lund, the deputy in the squad car, was actually assaulted while on decoy duty several years ago.

“He made small talk for less than a minute, finished his cigarette, flicked it to the ground—and grabbed my groin,” Lund said.

Steve, too, said a man rubbed his groin. One man in a wheelchair asked him to step up on a toilet so that his genitalia would be level with the man’s face.

“You get to where you just want to run away,” Steve said, “but you can’t.”

The deputies cannot run because it’s part of their job.

All multi-year veterans of the sheriff’s office, the deputies said their law enforcement experiences have hardened them to life’s oddities and unpleasantness, even the creepy things people continually do.

But Mike acknowledged:

“Some people just aren’t comfortable with it. Let’s face it: It’s a distasteful assignment.”

The decoys engage the men in coy conversation. They indicate they’re curious about a sexual liaison but back out after the men proposition or flash them.

“There’s a play back and forth,” Mike said. “It’s an integral part of the operation.”

Last updated: 10:35 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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