The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission recently added sexual orientation and gender expression to its list of characteristics that make citizens especially vulnerable to police bias.
The two characteristics were included in the Milwaukee Police Department’s Standard Operating Procedures, under SOP 001, in response to a sugggestion from Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. After noticing that the categories were missing from the original text, Ahmuty brought the oversight to the commission’s attention. Commissioner Richard Cox made the motion for inclusion, using language suggested by out FPC chair Sarah Morgan.
“The fire and police commission is always working to move forward to make good changes,” Morgan said. “There’s a new training program called Fair and Impartial Policing, and I think this is part of a more advanced level of cultural competency that’s based on identifying biases.”
Inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity n the very first SOP could have symbolic impact, Ahmuty said, by communicating to officers in the field that sensitivity toward LGBT people is a top priority.
Ahmuty described the department’s SOPs as directives or rules that function as a code of conduct. “This directive is partly reiterating the chief’s worldview and partly instruction to officers, particularly to those conducting training,” he said.
“This is a great first step in addressing the gulf that exists between many transgender and gender non-conforming residents and the Milwaukee Police Department,” said Loree Cook-Daniels, of the Milwaukee-based transgender advocacy group FORGE. “We thank the ACLU for helping make this happen, and look forward to working with them and the MPD on next steps in its implementation.”
The new directives come at a time when the MPD is under increased scrutiny from the ACLU. Four Milwaukee police officers face multiple felony counts in connection with unauthorized rectal searches, including some without protective gloves. As a result, federal investigators are looking into an alleged pattern of illegal body cavity searches at the MPD’s District Five.
The FBI also is conducting a civil rights investigation into the death of Derek Williams, who died while in Milwaukee police custody in July 2011.
MPD officials, the district attorney’s office and the Fire and Police Commission all concluded the officers involved did nothing wrong after viewing a video of Williams begging for help as he sat handcuffed and choking to death in the back seat of a squad car. But all three reopened their inquiries after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted the squad video online, creating a massive public uproar.
An inquest into Williams’ death was ongoing as WiG went to press. Two officers have been offered immunity in the case in exchange for their testimony.