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Strip Searching

There's got to be a hundred porno movies that portray a man (or a woman) getting strip searched by a female cop, only to find that the officer wasn't wearing any underwear, and suddenly they got it on right there in the prison cell. Okay, I don't watch porn as a rule, but I am not oblivious to that world, either. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, in real life that is not likely to happen. In fact, much of what you see when doing a strip search should never be put on screen. I mean never (I'm not sure what phrase I should use to indicate a shudder--but I just shuddered).

Strip searches are not a pleasant part of the job in policing, and although we are taught skills for cursory searching for weapons, etc., strip searching is a whole different ball game. In Police College (Editor's Note: this is what those of us living in the Colonies call "the academy") , you can practice the cursory search on your partners with the arm bar hold or the wrist lock, patting your partners down in search of weapons or needles or whatever, but you don't see partners practicing the strip search--at least, not on company time. So most of the skills passed on for a strip search are conveyed verbally or by example, if at all. I can't remember getting an actual lesson on strip searching. I do remember watching my female partner perform a strip search with rookie me standing by with my mouth open as she removed several items from between the female arrestee's legs. Who'd want that stuff after it's been there? One lady had a five dollar bill shoved up there. Next time you get change from a ten, think about it! It's just nasty. She said she put it up there because her boyfriend took all her money and she needed smokes. Time to quit smoking, don't ya think?

Police services have policies in regards to strip searching, intended to keep the dignity of the person being strip searched intact, while at the same time ensuring that there are no illegal items on their person. Many people have died from drug overdoses in prison cells because of unfound items they had shoved into their body cavities. The strip search is there to avoid such incidents, as well as to give a margin of officer safety. Most police services are leaving the actual cavity search up to medical professionals and use information at the scene or in the detention cell to form reasonable and probable grounds to believe that something dangerous is in the body cavity.

The usual policy, of course, is that men will search men and women will search women; that's a no-brainer. But there are times when cultural issues come into play. A research project I have recently completed was in regards to strip searching transgender individuals. This is where a "woman" is actually a man and has not had all of the operations necessary to fit the part, whether they are in the middle of the process or do not want to complete the process. In this case a female officer could be strip searching a female suspect, only to find a part of the anatomy which is not female at all. Ahem...surprise!

Interestingly, the issue at hand is that in fact the person acts and feels like a female, and to have a male officer search her/him just because she has a penis would be somewhat troublesome. However, having a female officer strip searching a female and finding a penis does not fit well with our policies of men searching men and women searching women. To research this issue, I contacted a transgender acquaintance of mine (I met him when I sat on a police/community diversity committee--get your head out of the gutter). I asked him what he thought the policies of transgendered strip searches should reflect in this instance. He indicated that we should ask the transgender suspect who they would feel more comfortable with, a male or female officer, with the idea that they would pick the one they feel best represents their own gender. I have some trouble with this, not that I haven't seen my share of penises while working the streets, but if I had my choice, I would rather not spend time strip searching someone in possession of one, if I can help it.

Regardless of what police service you work for, you may find yourself obligated to perform a strip search. It will be on one of those days when you think you've seen everything, until something extremely unique drops out of a body cavity or from between two breasts. This is part of the job, and although there are "grey areas" in regards to searching transgender individuals, police officers are flexible, if nothing else. A surprise now and then makes for a good story to tell the grandkids...don't you think?