Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker signed a bill on March 1 which expands the circumstances in which police and correctional officers can conduct strip searches on detainees and inmates suspected of misdemeanor and other minor crimes.
Previously, individuals detained or jailed on non-felony crimes could only be strip searched if they were to be held among other people for at least a 12-hour period. The Associated Press notes that Walker’s new law removes that 12-hour minimum time requirement.
The Associated Press also reported that Republican supporters of the bill argued that allowing law enforcement and corrections authorities to strip search anyone who will be detained or incarcerated among others will lead to safer jails and will help protect officers. Democratic opponents countered that the bill could result in civil rights abuses.
“Unfortunately, strip searches are extremely uncomfortable, there’s no question. But for the family of an inmate or an officer who gets killed by the shank that was hidden and not found because no strip search was performed, they’re going to go through much more discomfort than the strip search,” argued bill author Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) according to The Capital Times.
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), a critic of the law, said that the 12-hour requirement had originally been put in place to prevent people who are jailed or detained briefly for civil violations like non-payment of a fine from being strip searched.
The signing of the new law comes on the heels of the Milwaukee Common Council’s January approval of the payment of a $5 million settlement to 74 African-American residents who raised allegations that they were forced by police to submit to illegal body cavity and strip searches during a drug investigation.