The Things You Learn at Strip Clubs…

I appreciate a good compliance crackdown as much as the next person, but this one takes the cake: law enforcement in Louisiana want to send “mystery shoppers” into New Orleans strip clubs as part of a program to prevent human trafficking.

Talk about self-disclosure.

According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Louisiana Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Control wants to launch a voluntary program with bar owners in the French Quarter to reduce a variety of violations, from liquor law abuses to human trafficking. Part of that program would be annual training for bar employees so they can avoid infractions in the first place—and yes, part of it would send mystery shoppers into the strip clubs to see what’s really happening inside.

For example, Louisiana recently passed a human trafficking law requiring strippers to be at least 21 years old. (Exactly how mystery shoppers would determine a stripper’s age, I don’t know.) Some strip clubs have also been havens for prostitution and drug-dealing, plus the usual headache of under-aged drinkers. The mystery shoppers would be looking for offenses like that, as part of the state’s larger program to enforce liquor and entertainment laws.

magic-mikeAnd to ensure that the strip clubs have some skin in the game (sorry, couldn’t resist), participants in the program will have the chance to resolve violations more quickly. A club previously in good standing with the law, for example, might be able to retire its first offense quickly “if the offending employee is dealt with accordingly.” That can be a powerful incentive for club owners, since the second offense is usually when the fines and visits from law enforcement get a lot more painful.

All jokes aside, this program genuinely is a good example of smart regulatory enforcement; it gives strip club owners an incentive to implement their own compliance programs, which is what regulators should want to see. Louisiana state police will still be prowling Bourbon Street looking for clubs that break the law. They simply will give strip club owners a means to keep themselves on the right side of the law in the first place, which makes everyone’s life easier.

As State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson put it, “It gets compliance, which is what we’re ultimately after. This isn’t about writing tickets and putting people in jail.” That’s exactly the attitude law enforcement should have.

As to the club owners themselves—the state has crafted a compliance program that will cost far less than non-compliance, which makes participating in the voluntary program a good idea. (Back to the mystery shoppers: they will be hired by an outside agency to perform this service, and the club owners will pay for the agency. So no, taxpayers are not paying for someone to hang out at a strip club.)

Voluntary program; relatively low cost to participate; strong rewards for compliance; better ties between industry and regulator; better policing of a crime (human trafficking) that is repugnant—it’s all in there. Whatever else we might say about what goes on at strip clubs, Louisiana exposed some good ideas here.

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