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Strip search ruling changes won't affect police intoxication arrests

BY ANNA THEODOSIS | APRIL 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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Johnson County Jail officials say it's unlikely those charged with public intoxication — or any other misdemeanor — will be subjected to a strip search, even after a recent Supreme Court ruling.

"We'll certainly have to review the Supreme Court's ruling and consult the County Attorney's Office," said David Wagner, the jail administrator.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-4 vote anyone arrested, even for a misdemeanor, can be subjected to a strip search. Under the ruling, officials would have the authority to conduct the search without reasonable suspicion before the arrestee is admitted to the jail.

Wagner said as of now, the jail does not conduct strip searches on those charged with misdemeanors. Jail officials conduct a strip search only if there is suspicion the person may be harmful to inmates or the public.

Officials do not document when a strip search is conducted, Wagner said, but searches are uncommon — only when there's reasonable suspicion an arrested person could cause harm.

Iowa City police do not have the authority to administer strip searches, said Iowa City police Capt. Richard Wyss.

"There's nothing in our policies that specifically addresses strip searching," he said. "That's really up to the jail to determine with the level of threat they have."

In the Iowa City Police General Orders: Legal document under Search and Seizure, a police officer may only search for potentially harmful items or evidence by non-strip search methods such as pat-downs or searching property.

Following the ruling, Wagner said officials will speak with the County Attorney's Office on whether changes need to be made to current policy.

Officials from that office could not be reached Tuesday evening.

Wagner said the change may still prove helpful to officials if an individual charged with a misdemeanor is potentially harmful to officials and inmates.

"We take strip-search procedures very seriously," he said. "Our responsibility is to make sure other inmates are safe."

The ruling will also not affect University of Iowa police procedures.

"We wouldn't do strip searches anyway," said University of Iowa police Lt. Joe Lang. "That would all be done at the jail."

Some believe allowing officials to conduct strip searches even for misdemeanor offenses is an invasion on privacy.

"I think that due to the lack of limits to power, it definitely has a huge capacity for abuse," UI senior Aaron Martin said. "Personally, I wouldn't want anybody to have that power over me, because it seems like a violation of rights and your personal body."

Despite his personal dislike for strip searches, Martin said he understands some of the reasoning behind the ruling.

"I can see why it's contentious," he said. "I could [also] see why people who are in the know could see it meaning more safety."


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