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Vice squads investigate different crimes depending on the area in which they are located. It is common for crimes like prostitution and pornography to be investigated by vice squads, and in some areas crimes dealing with drugs and gambling are included as well. Often, this division of the police deals with crimes that are seen as immoral but not by their nature dangerous, although dangerous activities are often included in crimes dealt with by vice squads. For example, murder is not usually investigated by vice squads, but sex trafficking might be.
Crimes dealing with consensual but illegal sex are often investigated by vice squads. When sex is not consensual, such as in rape, the crime is typically dealt with by other units. Any crimes involving pornography or prostitution could be investigated by a vice squad. This division of the police is often responsible for setting up stings to catch either people soliciting prostitutes or the prostitutes themselves.
When investigating pornography, questions may arise about licenses, safety, or other regulations pornographers must obey. The vice squad might be called to investigate any cases where the person in the video may be under age or may not have consented to the activity. Determining when pornography is legal and when it is not is often complicated, and discovering who made certain pornographic films can be very difficult if the videos were made by amateurs.
In many areas, activities involving drugs are considered a type of vice crime. While drugs usually do not directly harm anyone but the user, using drugs is still considered a criminal activity in many areas. Using alcohol when someone is not of the legal drinking age might be investigated by a vice squad, but this is usually not important enough to draw the attention of a vice unit. More serious drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamines, are usually the focus of drug investigations.
Gambling is also a problem sometimes dealt with by vice squads. Legal gambling is, of course, heavily regulated, but illegal activities in a casino might be investigated by a vice unit. Illegal gambling like cock fights or underground gambling rings are also investigated by vice squads. Investigations of these crimes can often lead to more complex legal issues, which may bring the crime out of the vice squad's expertise.
The specific crimes investigated by a vice unit depend on what is and is not legal in the area in which the unit works. It also depends on the way in which criminal investigations are distributed in a police system. Certainly, even in areas without designated vice units, there may still be vice crimes.
@Rotergirl: We've had that problem, too. Our police department is really cracking down on sales to minors after some kids died at a party, and the cops found out they bought the booze -- not their parents. Very sad.
I think the vice squads usually handle gang crimes, too, as long as it's not something that would fall into the violent crime category, like rape or murder. I guess that's because gang activity can be lumped into the "organized" category.
I usually associate the vice squad with investigating drugs, prostitution, illegal alcohol and cigarette sales. I knew a guy who was really tall, looked 25, but was 18, and was a friend of several cops in town. The vice squad hired him several times to bust convenience stores that were selling alcohol without checking for IDs, and also selling to minors.
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