Police patrol to deter men hooking up for sex near dog park

Gateway Regional Park near Stateline isn't just drawing pet owners to the dog park. It's also a hot spot for men to hook up and have sex in the open, often during the day.

Liberty Lake police officers, who have helped patrol the 31-acre Spokane County park along the Spokane River and Centennial Trail since it opened in 2006, have arrested two men for indecent exposure and encountered other men cruising for sexual encounters in the past three weeks.

The incidents were in a gravel parking area adjacent to the enclosed, three-acre dog park, amid vegetation between the dog park and the river.

On a recent Monday afternoon, police received a report of two men having sex in a car while people in other cars appeared to watch. The drivers scattered when Liberty Lake officers and Spokane County sheriff's deputies arrived. One man was arrested for driving under the influence.

A Liberty Lake officer in plain clothes saw two men wander off into the trees together just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 26. He followed and found the two men having sex in the middle of a dirt path that runs parallel to the Centennial Trail. Both were arrested for indecent exposure.

To get an idea of how prevalent the problem is, Liberty Lake Officer Mark Van Hyning, dressed in plain clothes, sat in a civilian vehicle in the gravel parking lot Wednesday and was propositioned numerous times. The men wasted no time in small talk and were very explicit about what they wanted, he said.

"When they were contacting me, the verbiage that was used was amazing," Van Hyning said. "I was amazed at how many contacts there were. A lot of these guys were pulling up with (child) car seats in the back of their cars, wedding rings on their fingers."

Simply propositioning someone isn't illegal, and Van Hyning made no arrests. If discussions had turned to payment, the men could have been arrested for prostitution. Also, people caught engaged in sex can be arrested for indecent exposure.

Officers in uniform stopped cars as they left on Wednesday to emphasize they were patrolling the area, Van Hyning said. "We're trying to modify the behavior out there," he said.

Some people use Craigslist to schedule hookups. Searching for Liberty Lake in the personals section of the website turns up a long list of sexually explicit ads, some with nude pictures. Other men just drive to Gateway Park and wait for someone else to show up.

Van Hyning said he was in the lot for four hours and a car would come through about every 10 minutes. "It's a bigger issue than I thought it was back there," he said. "I had no idea how bad it was."

The gravel lot is not the main parking area for the dog park, but it is used by some park visitors.

Spokane County Park Ranger Bryant Robinson said he's grateful for the police emphasis. He's responsible for all the parks in Spokane County and makes a point to spend time in Gateway Park a couple times a week. He said he was a bit surprised by the level of activity Wednesday.

Many people use the park without incident, Robinson said. "Most visitors don't have a problem," he said. "We're not having calls left and right."

Liberty Lake police Sgt. Clint Gibson said the department will step up their patrols and conduct other emphasis events with plain-clothed officers.

"We'd like to try and do it at least once a week and we'll switch up the days," Gibson said. "You don't catch that activity if you're in a patrol car and in uniform."

He's concerned that the sexual activity is happening in visible areas in the middle of the day.

"It's a public decency and a public safety issue," Gibson said.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.