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Monday, April 30, 2012

Transgender advocates continue to applaud the Los Angeles Police Department’s new set of policies for interactions with trans people that it announced last week, making it the latest and one of the largest police departments in the country to do so.
At a community forum in Hollywood on April 12, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck laid out new guidelines that officers must follow when interacting with trans individuals. These include addressing them by their preferred gender identities; not frisking them to determine their anatomical gender; not assuming they are involved in prostitution and not requesting the removal of wigs, makeup and other appearance-related items differently than they would of non-trans people.
Beck also unveiled plans for a first-of-its kind jail wing just for trans inmates who are particularly susceptible to violence while incarcerated. The 24-bed module will open in the LAPD women’s jail in downtown Los Angeles in May.
The changes come five years after a working group was created to survey the department’s treatment of trans Angelenos.
The results were eye opening: 31 percent of trans people surveyed reported being verbally harassed by LAPD officers, 27 percent reported being repeatedly called the wrong gender and 12 percent reported being physically abused.
"This is a huge victory for transgender people who may interact with the police, and for transgender inmates," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. "It sets a great precedent for police departments nationwide."
Davis was a member of the working group that recommended the policy changes.
"We often receive calls from people who have experienced police harassment and experienced violence in prison, so we are thrilled that the LAPD is taking steps to remedy this tragic situation," he said.
The LAPD also worked closely with Dr. Valerie Jenness, dean of the School of Social Ecology at the University of California-Irvine. She has conducted unprecedented research on the experiences and treatment of trans inmates and arrestees.
"What LA’s trying is pretty innovative," she said, "but it’s not the end point. Now they have to train officers and hold them accountable."
Police departments in San Francisco, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., have taken steps to addressing trans-specific issues. These range from officer training to jail practices.
A trans police ordinance was proposed in Chicago last month. Activists in New York City are lobbying to establish treatment policies after a trans woman sued the New York Police Department for mistreatment in February.
"I think Chicago’s done some pretty interesting things; they’ve set up a gender committee that decides what happens in the jails," said Jenness. "It’s not as simple as book them and house them in line with their anatomy and birth sex, or book them and tell them where their gender identity takes them. There are two sides to that debate and it’s just not that simple when you start putting people in carceral environments where you have an obligation to keep people safe."
Jenness likened the current state of police-trans treatment policymaking happening around the country to the development of hate crime laws in the early 1980s.
"Its new terrain, people are still trying to work it out," she said. "My guess is that in about 15 to 20 years, you’ll see much more homogeneity."
Julie Marin, executive director of the Monterey-based Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs, said the LAPD, which has trans officers in its ranks, is taking a step in the right direction.
"I would say probably less than a dozen departments that we’re aware of have such policies nationwide," said Marin, a police officer of more than 30 years. "The United Kingdom is a different story, but in the United States, we’re behind the times."
Her organization has about 1,000 trans members of law enforcement nationwide.
"If an agency chooses not to bring [these issues] to their attention either through a directive or a guideline, much like the LAPD has, then officers will revert back to what they have learned through the past or what’s been accepted practice, which is basically, ’I can treat them however I want, even if my biases get in the middle of that, so be it,’" said Marin. "Having a written policy guidelines and then holding members accountable is very important."