Wisconsin State Patrol troopers sent to North Dakota to help disperse an encampment of Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters were not wearing name tags or numbers on their uniforms during their nine-day assignment.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says the anonymity is intended to protect the officers’ privacy in an emotionally charged situation but the decision faces criticism from civil rights advocates, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday.
“When individuals are peacefully exercising their rights to free speech and assembly, law enforcement should be trained and supervised so that they do not intimidate free-speech rights by covering up name tags — an implicit threat that police will engage in practices for which they do not want to be held accountable,” said Molly Collins, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said officers generally should wear name badges, or at least unique identifying numbers when there are safety concerns, but he didn’t criticize the Patrol’s decision, saying officer safety is paramount.
“Given the fact that the small number of troopers were sent and the likelihood that videographers will be utilized, there should still be adequate means for the State Patrol to effectively identify and investigate any matter involving a trooper while they are there,” Palmer said. “That strikes us as a good balance of the competing interests here.”
Authorities last week cleared the last holdouts from the camp near the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border.
Thousands of people stayed there before the area was buried in winter blizzards.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then moved into the evacuated camp to finish the cleanup before spring flooding.
The pipeline operator is now rushing to complete construction of the last remaining pipeline segment and says oil could flow as soon as March 6.
American Indian tribes are continuing their fight against the pipeline in court.
The Wisconsin State Patrol sent the 17 officers last week under a multi-state compact that allows state and local governments to request police assistance from other states and pay reimbursement for the help.
The Patrol’s standard policy is for officers to wear name tags, but under “a verbal directive specific to that deployment” the officers sent to North Dakota “have been directed to remove their name plates from their uniforms,” Col. Charles Teasdale said. They are still wearing other agency identifiers such as patches and badges.
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