MILWAUKEE — The leaders of six of Milwaukee's largest newsrooms sent a letter to Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman on Friday criticizing the department's recent decision to no longer provide the gender or race of crime victims to the media.
"As leaders of some of Milwaukee’s largest newsrooms, with a shared mission to inform the public and to tell stories with context and depth, we are asking the Police Department to reconsider its recent decision to no longer proactively release the gender of homicide victims," the letter begins, later adding, "residents can only make decisions based on information available to them."
The news leaders also took issue with the sudden change to a long-standing policy, arguing "it was put in place without any advance notice to us or the public."
The letter was signed by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Executive Editor Greg Borowski, TMJ4 News News Director Tim Vetscher, CBS 58 News Director Jessie Garcia, FOX 6 VP/News Director Brandice Bailey, WISN 12 News News Director Matthew Sinn, and Spectrum News Senior News Director Diane Irving.
Last week, the department explained why it decided to make the change, saying it comes after instances of police misgendering victims in the transgender community.
As a member of the LGBTQ community and a Milwaukee Police Department LGBTQ liaison, Sgt. Guadalupe Velasquez says she approached MPD’s administration back in May to ask for a policy change after the department misgendered a crime victim who was transgender.
“We don’t want to make a traumatic experience for a family worse,” she said.
The authors of the letter to MPD say they sympathize with that cause, but disagree with the way to best address it.
"We share the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community about individuals being “deadnamed,” or misgendered and – of course – we want to only provide accurate information to the public. We think the best way to achieve this is for the department to take care to only release accurate information to the public, not to systematically withhold a basic piece of information that can be essential to residents concerned about their own safety and that of their neighborhood."
Sgt. Guadalupe says MPD acknowledged the problem and came up with the proposed solution after consulting with leaders in the LGBTQ community.
Kathleen Bartzen Culver is UW-Madison’s journalism school director and an expert on media ethics.
“There’s a difference from the public needing to know and the public wanting to know,” she said.
Bartzen Culver thinks the policy change is the right move for breaking news situations, but she believes it could prevent the community from learning about critical crime trends.
“Are women more at risk to be crime victims? Are men more at risk? Are transgender folks more at risk? 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,” she said.
It is important to note that Sgt. Velasquez says the Milwaukee Police Department will still share a person’s gender and race if they are a suspect in a crime, because that information can be critical for the public to help identify them.
You can read the letter to MPD in full below: