Question: In light of the recent Supreme Court decision what is the policy of the Fredericksburg Police as to when they perform a strip search on a detainee?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Florence v. County of Burlington holds that a person may be subject to a strip search during the jail intake process, regardless of the offense for which the person was arrested. FPD officers do not conduct the jail intake process, and are governed by the more narrow parameters for strip searches established by Code of Virginia §19.2-59.1:
No person in custodial arrest for a traffic infraction, Class 3 or Class 4 misdemeanor, or a violation of a city, county, or town ordinance, which is punishable by no more than thirty days in jail shall be strip searched unless there is reasonable cause to believe on the part of a law-enforcement officer authorizing the search that the individual is concealing a weapon. All strip searches conducted under this section shall be performed by persons of the same sex as the person arrested and on premises where the search cannot be observed by persons not physically conducting the search.
The Police Department’s policy reflects the limitations defined by the Code of Virginia and is not likely to be impacted by the recent Supreme Court ruling. The Police Department’s directive on this topic reads thus: 300.08 – Strip and Body Cavity Searches – A strip search occurs when an arrested person is made to remove or arrange some or all of his or her clothing in order to permit a visual inspection of the genitals, buttocks, anus, female breasts or undergarments. The authority and limitations for strip-searching are derived from the Code of Virginia, §19.2-59.1.A - Strip searches prohibited; exceptions; how strip searches conducted. The following is especially noteworthy: “No person in custodial arrest for a traffic infraction, Class 3 or Class 4 misdemeanor, or a county ordinance which is punishable by no more than thirty days in jail, shall be strip searched unless there is reasonable cause to believe on the part of the law enforcement officer authorizing the search that the individual is concealing a weapon.” [1.2.8, a]
Furthermore, the following conditions shall be observed in conducting strip searches: An officer should confirm the class of offense prior to conducting a strip search.
- Strip searches shall be done by an officer of the same sex as the individual who is to be searched and in an area that cannot be observed by persons not conducting the search. [1.2.8, b]
- Search warrants must be obtained prior to searching any body cavity other than the mouth.
- Code of Virginia Section §19.2-59.1.C states: “A search of any body cavity must be performed under sanitary conditions and a search of any body cavity other than the mouth shall be conducted by or under the supervision of medically-trained personnel.” Officers are not authorized to perform a body cavity search, other than the mouth or by medically trained personnel under the authority of a search warrant. Officers may request that Jail personnel perform a body cavity search at the Jail. The officer requesting the search must document that the search was conducted and make mention of any unusual circumstance occurring during or after the search.
- All strip and body cavity searches will be documented by a report. [1.2.8,c]