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Public nudity laws in LA revealed: When is being naked a crime?

By Andrew Lopez
Published: Friday, February 17, 2012, at 09:23AM
Flickr via Humanoide

What are the nudity laws in Los Angeles?

Last week a naked man who climbed a communications tower in Downtown was released to a hospital instead of being arrested. This raises the question: Is it OK to walk the streets naked?

The answer: Kind of, but not really.

LAPD Officer Karen Rayner said the naked man would have been more likely to be charged with trespassing than public nudity. It's not common for a person to be naked on the streets, Rayner said, but if they are they can still be brought into custody.

“It’s not the crime of the century,” Rayner added.

The consequences only become really serious when there's a sexual reason for being nude.

“Nude alone is not lewd. In order to be lewd conduct (PC Section 647a) there must be some indication of sexual motivation,” L.A. City Attorney’s Office spokesman Frank Mateljan said in an e-mail.

There are several variables officers consider when dealing with a naked person in public.

“Does the suspect resist arrest? Is he disturbing the peace?,” Mateljan said. “It is possible for an officer to arrest if these misdemeanors are committed in their presence but they could also cite and release.”

According to a city parks ordinance established in 1979: No person shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk or be in any public park, playground, beach or the waters adjacent thereto, in such a manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic symphysis, pubic hair, buttock, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region, or pubic hair region of any such person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any such female person, is exposed to public view or is not covered by an opaque covering.

Under the ordinance, a “park” is defined loosely, including everything from a roadside rest area, to a beach, golf course, zoological garden or playground.

Public nudity is judged on a case-by-case basis, though LAPD Sgt. Gary Leffew said he doesn’t deal in hypotheticals regarding where or where not it is OK to be naked.

“If you’re walking down the street naked, you’re going to be arrested,” Leffew said. “Use some common sense.”

But when did we become so concerned with who's naked and who's not?

Pastor Rafael Casillas of St. Joseph Catholic Church believes that over the last several hundred years, religion has played a big role in how we think about our bodies and our modesty. But in recent years, nudity laws are just logical.

"It's more of a concern for the public," Casillas said. "It might create another type of misbehavior."

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