Police discuss search policies
BY ANNA DURRETT / REPORTER
People arrested in the Madison County area are provided with more privacy upon being put in custody than federal law requires.
The Supreme Court ruled April 2 law enforcement officials may perform strip searches on people arrested for any offense, no matter how minor, before being placed into holding. Under the ruling of Florence v. Board of Freeholders, officials do not have to suspect the presence of contraband on a detainee to conduct a search.
The Madison County Detention Facility only routinely performs strip searches on detainees being placed in the general population, according to Chief of Corrections Steve Morrison. This is the only instance in which strip searches are routinely performed on detainees in the Madison County area.
“If they are charged with a misdemeanor and are going to bond out, we hold them in booking until their paperwork is completed and they are released,” said Morrison. “Misdemeanants will only be strip searched if they can not bond out or be released by the courts in a reasonable timeframe. They are placed in general population at that point.”
“If there is a chance someone is going to be released, we like to accommodate them so we don’t expend time unreasonably,” Morrison said. “Besides, we try to save taxpayers money by keeping the inmate population down. Helping inmates get out before processing them through to a cell saves a lot of money. Our daily cost runs around 46 to 47 dollars per day per inmate.”
Communications Relations Officer Dr. Harry Hobbs of the Huntsville Police Department said the Huntsville police only do pat down searches and then hand detainees over to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to be placed in the Madison County Detention Facility.
“Madison Police Department does not typically engage in strip searches,” said Madison City Police Department Community Relations Officer Lt. John Stringer. “That is something that would be conducted by the dentition facility we take them to, be it the Decatur City Jail or the Madison County Jail.”
Madison city police take those charged with misdemeanors to the Decatur City Jail and those charged with felonies to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. “As far as our search policy goes, the number one reason we are going to search someone when we arrest them is officer safety,” said Stringer.
“Once a subject is taken into custody they are all searched,” Stringer said. The search is more thorough then a pat down because officers can remove items off the person, such as a wallet or necklace. “You’re not only responsible for your safety and their safety, but you’re also responsible for their valuables,” Stringer said of police officers.
Lt. John Crouch of the Decatur Police Department said when detainees arrive to the Decatur City Jail they are only strip searched if there is probable cause to believe they are concealing something.
Stringer said Madison Police Department trains its officers thoroughly to ensure they are as prepared as possible for all situations “whether it’s preventing an officer from overstepping his bounds in a normal encounter with a citizen or whether its that officer making sure he stays safe, and the community doesn’t experience the lost of an officer because the search wasn’t carried far enough because a weapon was missed.”
“Every year officers have to complete in-service training,” said Stringer. “Search and seizure is one of the big ones. It is a living thing that’s constantly evolving.” The department also has a monthly bulletin on search and seizure everyone in the agency is required to read.