Writing Policies that Protect the Rights of Transgender Suspects
- Written by Amy Dinsmore
- December 13 2016
As LGBT issues have become a more prominent part of public conversation in the last few years, many law enforcement agencies have been working to improve LGBT-police relations. One aspect of this is creating policies that protect the rights of transgender suspects and victims.
Transgender people are those who identify as a different gender than the assigned sex they were born with. According to estimates from The Williams Institute, nearly 700,000 Americans identify as transgender. Unfortunately, police relations with the transgender community have often been strained. Reports have shown that transgender people are up to four times more likely to suffer police violence than other people. And in a 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 46 percent of respondents said they were uncomfortable seeking police assistance for fear of harassment.
Transgender interactions need to be addressed in law enforcement policies. Discrimination, harassment or misconduct against any group not only puts officers, agencies and the public at risk, it also undermines the duty of police to respectfully serve and protect everyone in their communities. Here are a few places to start in creating policies that protect the rights of transgender suspects:
Address proper terminology
Along with defining some key terms such as “assigned sex,” “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” law enforcement transgender policies should include guidelines for how officers should address transgender individuals. First and foremost, the policies should emphasize respectful interactions, prohibiting the use of derogatory terms, inappropriate comments and questions that aren’t relevant to the situation at hand.
Policies should lay out how officers are expected to refer to transgender individuals both during the interaction and in any necessary reports and press releases. Usually, transgender women (those transitioning from male to female) prefer the pronouns “she” and “her,” while transgender men prefer male pronouns. If an officer isn’t sure which name and pronoun the person prefers, they should respectfully ask, then use those pronouns throughout the interaction. Policies also need to address how officers should complete official reports if an individual goes by a name that doesn’t match their identification. Some departments suggest using the name and sex on the ID, but recording the preferred name as an alias.
Prohibit discrimination and unfair searches
Police transgender policies should prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals. In general, officers should abide by the same practices and procedures that apply to any other suspect. However, policies should specifically prohibit officers from conducting a search, frisk or pat down just to determine someone’s anatomical gender. If a search is required, officers should ask the suspect if they prefer a male or female officer to conduct the search.
Lay out guidelines for arrest and custody
Policies should provide guidelines for procedures if a transgender suspect is taken into custody. Since transgender suspects may be in danger of abuse from other detainees, many departments require officers to place transgender suspects in holding cells alone. Policies should also specify when it’s appropriate for officers to confiscate appearance-related items from transgender suspects, and prohibit officers from seizing items that wouldn’t be taken from other suspects.
Creating thorough policies on transgender interactions can help police departments make sure officers are doing their best to treat everyone with respect as they serve and protect their communities.