Local outrage and national media attention may lead to positive changes within the ranks of the Milwaukee Police Department. According to the Journal Sentinel, the department announced changes to their existing search policy and an emphasis on existing standards that weren’t taken very seriously in years past. The changes will hopefully keep officers in check while potentially rebuilding some lost community trust.
The issues arose after allegations of illegal strip searches and even sexual assaults by Milwaukee cops. Four officers have since been charged, though not with sexual assault charges that many advocates have asked for. The described “ringleader” pleaded no contest to felony charges and three others will go to trial this summer.
The policy, which is essentially the same one that’s been in place but strengthened and emphasized, says that officers must conduct strip searches only after they receive approval from a captain or higher authority. A lieutenant can approve a strip search if a captain is unavailable.
Also as the former policy required, this new policy will again mandate all strip searches be accompanied by a strip search authorization report, including the date, location, and reason for the search. Also, a copy of the report must be provided to the person being searched. Though this was policy before, it was not being followed.
In 2010, for instance no such reports were filed in the department. In 2011, there were only four. In 2012, when allegations of illegal strip searches surfaced, that number jumped significantly—to 29.
“I think reasonably in any organization of any kind, especially any organization of any significant size, you’re going to have the wayward employee, and you have to have systems in place — and we do more now than ever before — that give the rest of your organization the courage to stand up and say that’s not right,” said MPD’s Chief of Staff Joel Plant.
Plant added, “Without trust and partnership of the community that is being policed, the department cannot affect its mission.”
In addition to addressing strip searches, the new policy dictates parameters for when officers can conduct street-side pat downs and clarifies other details for police and citizen interactions. Finally, when officers ask for consent to search, they wll be required to fill out a form, regardless of whether or not the citizen consents.
The ACLU is critical at how quickly the department enacted the policy, not giving the people enough time to weigh in. While the policy and reinforcement of older guidelines is positive, they argue it’s not good enough.
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