Change the Policies, Change the Police

While it’s good to hold individual police officers accountable for their actions, I think we also need to remember to hold department policies accountable in instances of abuse and wrongful action.

I read this crazy article today out of San Antonio. Here’s the main point of the article:

The city of San Antonio wants to make a $205,000 payout to a woman who sued in federal court, alleging that an SAPD detective pulled down her shorts in public and inappropriately searched her vagina for drugs…

The lawsuit, filed last year by Natalie D. Simms, alleges now-retired SAPD Detective Mara Wilson conducted an illegal vaginal cavity search on Simms after she was approached by officers while she sat on a curb waiting for her boyfriend.

The officers asked Simms, who has a criminal record, if they could search her car for drugs, the suit charges. When the search turned up no contraband, they called for a female officer to search her person.

According to the allegations in the suit, Wilson, a 32-year force veteran, slid down Simms’ shorts and examined her vagina in view of the street while male officers were present. The officer also pulled a tampon from Simms’ vagina and held it up, inspecting it in front of the other cops.

And for all that, that’s not the crazy part for me. This is:

According to the suit, Wilson was never disciplined for the search because internal affairs found that she hadn’t violated any department policies. She retired in 2017.

Hadn’t violated any department policies.

It’s good to hold police accountable for wrongful actions. It’s really, really good that the killings of Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson resulted in the respective officers being charged with murder. Endings that unfortunately surprise us these days.

But we can’t forget about the departments themselves. I don’t know how many videos and articles I’ve seen where cops were committing wrongful acts, but they weren’t disciplined because “they were following department policy”. Even though we know it’s wrong to search the car of a woman sitting on a street curb, strip her in public, vaginally search her and display her used tampon to everyone on the street, it’s department policy, so it’s okay.

A lot of the issues surrounding police today isn’t just because of the officers themselves, but also because of the rules they follow, if not more so. While it’s good to see the amount of social pressure calling for greater consequences of individual police abuse, we also need to push for legislative action that changes the policies that command the officers.

After suits like these, department policies should be reviewed by city officials not related to the police and a greater consideration for serving the public should be had. We should be asking, “Who is responsible for these policies and how can they be changed?”

If we change the policies, we change the police.



Photo by todd kent on Unsplash

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