MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Police Department has changed its policy to no longer share a crime victim’s gender or race with the public.
The department says 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.
“Do you think misgendering transgender victims in the past has hurt the LGBTQ community?” reporter Ben Jordan asked.
“Based on the conversations I had, yes,” Sgt. Velasquez replied. “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.”
After consulting with leaders in the LGBTQ community, Sgt. Guadalupe says the department acknowledged the problem and came up with a solution. This week, M.P.D. notified the media it will no longer share a victim’s gender or race.
“I think the biggest thing is the department wants to make sure we’re always being respectful,” she said.
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.
Crimes against the transgender community have been on the rise nationally and locally. Within the past year and a half, three transgender women have been killed in Milwaukee.
“I spoke with a leader in the transgender community and they told me they would rather have the Milwaukee Police Department get genders correct rather than not share them at all. What is your response to that?” Jordan asked Sgt. Velasquez.
“I mean, for me, I think it’s because the information is not always readily available and we don’t always have somebody on scene to make sure that we’re getting it right,” Sgt. Velasquez replied. “I think this is a way to make sure that the department doesn’t get it wrong.”
Sgt. Velasquez says getting it right is important to building trust with the LGBTQ community — and it also enhances the department’s goal to be inclusive to all.
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.