Prince William officials decided to drop a requirement that adult businesses videotape their premises and give police access to the tapes in new regulations passed Tuesday.
“Given that there seems to be some controversy about this and no controversy about the rest of the requirements, that was one reason I suggested taking these out,” said Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at-Large, who came up with the idea to tighten the ordinance earlier this year.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors passed the ordinance 8-0 Tuesday.
The Virginia American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit over the camera surveillance because they said it is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects persons from search and seizures without probable cause.
The dropped requirement was part of a new licensing procedure: store owners would have to videotape inside and outside their stores and give police access to the tapes on request.
The other part of the ordinance, a zoning change, was not controversial: It requires all adult businesses be located at least 500 feet away from homes, day care centers, schools, libraries, places of worship, parks and other adult businesses.
Virginia ACLU executive director Kent Willis said the real goal of the cameras was not to reduce crime but to scare away customers by letting them know they are being taped for viewing by police.
If the camera rule applied to all areas where crime is higher, it would be reasonable, he said. “But they’re not, and that’s a tell-tale sign of what they’re doing. They’re trying to put adult businesses out of business.”
At the Tuesday public hearing, Bristow resident Claire Rollins said customers should not be afraid to have their pictures taken. “If you’re not embarrassed about what you’re doing, you wouldn’t be afraid to have cameras.”
She said the county took away the property rights of landowners in the Rural Crescent, and those rights are in the U.S. Constitution. Those rights are more important than First Amendment rights, especially when the future of county children are at stake, she said.
“I personally feel that it [adult businesses] ought to be prohibited within the county altogether,” she said.
In Chesterfield County, where a nearly identical camera requirement became law, the ACLU is offering to represent any adult business the county asks to turn over tapes. Willis said the law cannot be challenged in court unless it is used, and as far as the ACLU knows no adult store owner has been asked to give tapes to any government official in Chesterfield.
Manassas Video Club chain owner John Kenney, who county, church and conservative groups tried to put out of business five years ago on the basis of anti-obscenity laws, said last week he was prepared to take the county to court over its new ordinance.
Kenney did not return phone calls Tuesday after the less strict ordinance passed.
Not controversial are the spacing requirements for adult businesses because Supreme Court precedent allows localities to minimize secondary effects of adult businesses, which can include increased crime, disease transmission and urban blight, said Willis and the county officials.
The ordinance regulates adult bookstores, adult video stores, stores with sexual paraphernalia, and any place of business with adult entertainment. Adult merchandise must be the principal portion of a store’s sales for it to be regulated as an adult business.
“Sanitary conditions in some adult businesses are unhealthy … Numerous studies and reports have determined that semen is found in the areas of adult businesses where persons view adult-oriented films,” the ordinance states.
The ordinance does not apply to the private viewing of adult Web sites in homes.