Milwaukee police to conceal victims' gender, race in response to 'misgendering' allegations

21:29 11.09.2023

Last week, the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) announced a significant policy change regarding the public release of a crime victim's race and gender. The decision was made after previous instances of misgendering transgender crime victims, which sparked discussions between the department and members of the LGBTQ community.

Heather Hough, MPD's chief of staff, emphasized that the change was implemented to "preserve the dignity and privacy of all victims." She further stated that the department wants to ensure the best possible service for the entire community. The announcement was made on Wednesday and received support from the LGBTQ community.

Sergeant Guadalupe Velasquez, MPD's LGBTQ liaison, revealed that she had approached police leadership in May to advocate for this policy change. Reflecting on her experience misgendering a transgender victim, Velasquez expressed concern about exacerbating the trauma experienced by victims and their families. She also highlighted the negative impact that misgendering has had on the gay, lesbian, and transgender community. The incidents had created discomfort and distrust, leading some organizations to refuse collaboration with the police department.

The need for this policy change became evident when the MPD misgendered three Black transgender women who were tragically killed in the city last year. The initial press releases, which misidentified the victims, were subsequently cited in media reports. This misgendering further emphasized the importance of respecting the gender identity of victims and acknowledging the harm it can cause to marginalized communities.

It is important to note that this policy change applies solely to information released proactively by the MPD in press releases. Race and gender information will still be disclosed if individuals are identified as suspects in a crime. However, this policy has not been implemented by any other police department in Wisconsin, making it a unique and potentially controversial decision.

Critics, such as Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, argue that withholding demographic information about crime victims, such as race and gender, denies the public's right to know important details. Lueders particularly emphasized the significance of this information in hate crimes and homicides. He believes that blocking access to such information only adds new barriers, hindering the public's understanding of what is happening in their neighborhoods and communities.

Greg Borowski, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editor, echoed the sentiment that journalists need to provide a comprehensive view of crime issues in the community. Borowski stressed the importance of reporting with context and sensitivity, acknowledging the challenges that this policy change may pose. However, he also reassured the public that the newspaper remains committed to fulfilling its role despite the new obstacles.

While the MPD's policy change aims to protect the dignity and privacy of victims, concerns have been raised about the potential drawbacks of restricting access to basic demographic information. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, as a nonpartisan group dedicated to promoting open government practices, expressed their apprehension about limiting the public's right to know. It remains to be seen how this policy change will be received and if adjustments will be made in response to the concerns raised.

As of now, the Milwaukee Police Department has not provided additional comment on the policy change, despite requests for clarification from news outlets.

/ Monday, September 11, 2023, 9:29 PM /

themes:  Wisconsin

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