News (USA)

This police department is going to stop saying victims’ genders so they can avoid misgendering

crime or accident scene sign do not pass the line with police cars in the background
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The Milwaukee Police Department will no longer identify the race and gender of crime victims to the media in an effort to avoid misgendering transgender victims.

“To maintain both the privacy and dignity of crime victims, their families, and loved ones, the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) will no longer proactively report out to the community victim information related to gender or race,” the MPD officials said in a statement last week.

According to local NBC affiliate TMJ4, MPD officials will continue to share information about suspects’ race and gender.  

The department’s chief of staff Heather Hough told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the policy change comes after the MPD misgendered three transgender murder victims in media releases within nine months.

“We don’t want to make a traumatic experience for a family worse,” said Sergeant Guadalupe Velasquez, the department’s LGBTQ+ liaison and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Velasquez requested the policy change in May. She described the impact that misgendering the victims of crimes has had on the LGBTQ+ community’s trust in law enforcement. “It was something that was a topic that led to some uncomfortable conversations for me where some of the organizations were like, ‘We’re not willing to work with the police department because clearly, you don’t have respect for us.’”

“I think the biggest thing is the department wants to make sure we’re always being respectful,” she added.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, told TMJ4 that while the change makes sense for breaking news, she worries that not disclosing information about a victim’s race and gender at all could keep the community from learning about important crime trends.

“Are women more at risk to be crime victims? Are men more at risk? Are transgender folks more at risk?” she said. “So those longer-term stories, that’s where we definitely need to be able to dive into the data and look for trends, look for things that ought to concern us as citizens.”

According to a 2021 report from the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, transgender people are over four times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than cisgender men and women. So far, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked at least 15 trans and gender nonconforming people in the U.S. who died by violent means in 2023. Three Black transgender women have been killed in Milwaukee within the past year and a half.

According to TMJ4, members of the city’s trans community would prefer that MPD officials get a victim’s gender identity right from the start rather than withholding the information. But Velasquez noted that that information is not always immediately available.

“We don’t always have somebody on scene to make sure that we’re getting it right,” she said. “I think this is a way to make sure that the department doesn’t get it wrong.”

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