- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

Plainclothes officers at the world’s busiest airport, patrolling public restrooms in search of luggage thieves, have instead uncovered a rash of other, more sordid crimes.

The new restroom dragnet has led to the arrests of more than 30 people in three months for indecent exposure and public sex acts at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Airport restrooms apparently have become popular meeting places for men looking for sexual trysts with other men.

The new patrols were started to stop theft, not to catch people in sex acts, police officials say.

Officers started monitoring the restrooms after figuring out that thieves were pulling bags off baggage-claim carousels and taking them into toilet stalls to comb through them.

“We’re trying to provide a safe environment for everyone at the airport,” said Officer Joseph Villafane, a police spokesman. “We’re not out to get all that it’s just we encounter it.”

Among those arrested is Ed Wall, the board chairman of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. An officer said he saw Mr. Wall having sex with another man. Mr. Wall, who has temporarily stepped down from his post, has maintained his innocence. A court date has not been set.

The other court cases are pending.

Some say the airport police should have better things to do than stake out restrooms.

“Police have far better things to do with their time than to arrest people for this,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York. “Being ‘sex police’ in bathrooms strikes me as a perversion of rational law-enforcement activities.”

Atlanta’s is not the only airport to have had restroom-related arrests. Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was ordered to pay $35,000 in damages to a custodian who said he shoved her and exposed himself to her in a bathroom at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in 2000. A year later, a county judge in Michigan was arrested at Detroit Metro Airport and accused of exposing himself to an undercover officer, although a district attorney decided not to prosecute.

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