I was excited to read and review Off the Street. The true story of Las Vegas vice cop Christopher Baughman, leader of the Pandering Investigation Team (PIT) and Human Trafficking Task Force, it seemed like the perfect read for a sex-work-loving, law enforcement supporter such as myself.
The story begins when a prostitute on the Strip is beaten for two days by her pimp, who’s also the father of her son. Baughman becomes her crusading investigator, despite the victim’s objections to leaving her attacker. Baughman seems to understand the cycle of violence and abuse with which he’s so familiar, and acknowledges the woman’s reluctance to assist in the case. He acknowledges that there are indeed “bad” cops:
“I understand that the power of the badge can only amplify qualities in a person. For instance, a good man with a badge can only amplify qualities in a person. … There are others who carry a badge and feel an automatic sense of entitlement. They might bend over backward for some citizens, but declare in the same breath that any ghetto is just a self-cleaning oven. These men have also become my enemies. I have no use for them. They have dishonored their position, slighted the city I love and tarnished the badge that I carry.”
Baughman refers to himself as a “child from the projects,” and a black man who has experienced police mistreatment, first-hand, at a very young age. An incident resulting from racial profiling left him bleeding and in tears at age 13. Interestingly, it seems that this attack inspired the young Baughman to become a cop—a noble one.
“I’m different than the others,” he writes. “I’m cross-bred, a hybrid, mongrelized. Because of this, I’m far from pure, and distant from ideal. I am not the shining hero beneath a waving flag, one who dons the badge upon a broadened chest. Neither am I the kind who can mingle happily at city hall, sharing cop stores over imported wine and cheese. I am one born of less, the anti-hero, constructed by my youth. I am the fire used to fight fire.”
The tagline on the cover reads: “Prostitution is not a victimless crime.” As a supporter of the idea of regulation and legalization of hooking, I kept waiting for Baughman to proselytize his views on sex work.
I read warily, as he told of searching with his partner for a particular accomplice in strip clubs along the Strip. He described the interactions with the managers at these clubs and the security, but does not delve in to detail of the girls, mentioning only; “Work schedules hang everywhere, charting the hours completed by Cinnamon, Candy, Precious and Diamond—names which I highly doubt they got at birth.” Right.
At no point does Baughman take any general stance on sex work, nor does he say that sex for money is inherently evil; rather he speaks at length about the abuse, lies and manipulation go hand in hand with dealing with sex trafficking.
“By nature, the chief characteristic of a pimp mirrors that of a trapper —one whose business is the trapping of animals for furs, or, by extension, one whose business is the trapping of women for their lives. … These men are keen trackers, and skilled in detecting weaknesses in the psyches of those they look to ensnare.”
To my relief, Baughman doesn’t belittle nor degrade the victims to which he is assigned. Instead, he describes these women as beautiful, unique and not unintelligent, but dependent upon the abusive, greedy men who control their lives and bodies: their pimps.
He recognizes them as daughters who had strayed too far from home, or mothers who are struggling to support their children, women who are struggling to support their habits, or both.
Yet despite all of Off the Street’s good intentions, I had to force myself to finish reading it.
For one, he’s a cop, not a writer, and some of the dialogue feels contrived and theatrical.
“’You don’t have to worry about that,’ I say. ‘By the time we’re done, Anthony will rue the day. If you don’t mind my saying, you seem like a very headstrong woman. And that’s a high compliment in my book.’”
Often, I got lost in the dialogue between him and his partners and coworkers. For police-speak, it seemed to be too proper and descriptive, likely for the benefit of the reader. For example, one detective asks another, “How did the jail interview go?” I’ve spoken with enough cops and witnessed them speaking to each other to assume that an interview directly resulting from an arrest does not need to be referred to as a “jail interview.” It’s redundant.
On pg 61, Baughman uses the word “banter” twice in two sentences in a row, seemingly unintentionally. He may be telling a good story, but he needed a better editor.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fabulous that a book like this exists, and I wish there were more of them. Books that fight against the ghetto-fabulousness of pimps and money that we see in pop culture, yet defend the women who do sex work out of oppression and fear, and still portray law enforcement as gentle and kind, are quite rare.
I concluded Off the Street to be a noble story that could easily be translated to a larger audience as a top-grossing Hollywood movie starring Vin Diesel. That said, it wasn’t a fun read. Would I want Detective Christopher Baughman in my corner? Absolutely. I’d just prefer to not read any more memoirs by him.