LOS ANGELES — At a time when relations between law enforcement and many marginalized groups have been scrutinized, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has implemented a new policy that outlines how personnel must interact and treat the transgender community.
Here are a few guidelines:
- Address transgender people by their preferred gender identities
- Don’t frisk or search someone to determine anatomical gender
- Don’t request the removal of wigs, makeup and other appearance-related items unless the request is consistent with requirements for the removal of similar items for non-transgender individuals.
Housing is not addressed in the new guidelines because it was addressed in a separate policy that went into effect in 2001 and has been updated three times, most recently in 2014. That policy allows gay, gender nonconforming and transgender inmates to be housed wherever they would feel safest, including a separate unit away from the general population that is specifically for them.
“Usually law enforcement is reactionary with civil rights. Protests and lawsuits had to happen for the gay and lesbian community to get the treatment they deserve,” said Lt. Don Mueller of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in an exclusive interview with Q Voice News.
‘THE RIGHT THING TO DO’
Mueller’s reference is to the sheriff’s department updating its nondiscrimination policy to add “sexual orientation” in 1992 as part of a settlement in a $90 million discrimination lawsuit brought by Deputy Bruce Boland. That settlement also included Boland’s reinstatement, recruitment within the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ sensitivity training to begin in the academy.
“We don’t need a multi-million lawsuit until we react,” Mueller said. “Let’s get ahead of it.
“It’s morally the right thing to do,” said Mueller, a gay officer and the sheriff department’s point-person on LGBTQ issues. “We need to treat everyone in our community with the same respect. Everyone deserves the same quality of service.”
The five-page policy addresses six topics:
- Terms such as LGBT, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, transgender, gender non-conforming, transition and intersex are defined. The section also says that the terms “homosexual, transsexual, transvestite, and sexual preference are outdated or defamatory terms” and “offensive by many people” and should not be used.
- Name and pronoun usage: Deputies and employees will use the name and pronoun of a person’s preferred gender identity. If they are unsure about a person’s gender identity, deputies or employees will ask, “What name and pronouns would you prefer I use when I address you?”
A person’s driver’s license or ID card doesn’t need to reflect their gender identity. If contact is made with someone in a group setting, the person will be asked to step outside the group to share their legal name and not out or embarrass them. Intentional refusal to respect someone’s gender identity is harassment and violates the policy.
- Report writing: When a person’s legal name and/or gender don’t correspond with the name and gender they identify, the person’s legal name and gender will be used on the first page of the report. But in the first paragraph of the narrative, a statement should indicate that the person is transgender and identifies with a different name and pronoun, which will then be used throughout the report.
- Privacy: Sheriff’s personnel won’t ask someone about the medical status of their gender transition process or genitalia. Unless appropriate to medical personnel, employees won’t disclose that a person is transgender to any non-law enforcement personnel. Also, the request to remove wigs, makeup and other appearance-related items will be consistent with requirements for the removal of similar items for non-transgender individuals.
- Searches: Under no circumstances will deputies or officers search someone to determine genital status or the presence or absence of breasts. Cursory searches can be conducted by a deputy or officer of either gender, but for more invasive searches, the transgender person will select the gender of the deputy or officer doing the search. All strip, visual body cavity and physical body cavity searches will be conducted in private and be approved in advance by the watch commander.
- Restroom Accessibility: Transgender individuals have the legal right under California law to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
Porter Gilberg, executive director at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, said the sheriff’s department has taken a “strong, positive step forward” with a policy that provides “culturally sensitive responses that meet the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming people.”
Policies such as these are vital to all parties, but “actual implementation and use by law enforcement is just as critical as the policy itself,” Gilberg said.
Flor Bermudez, managing attorney at the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, said the policy is a “step forward toward trying to give transgender people some of the rights they should have.”
Mueller pointed out the policy is needed because the sheriff’s department spends a lot of time speaking with people trying to navigate the legal system.
“The majority of our contact with the public is not with suspects, it’s with witnesses, victims, people calling 911, people coming into the station for a report,” he said. “We want everyone to know how to address transgender people.”
The intention is to educate the rank and file on how to interact with transgender people, he said.
“The policy will educate employees about proper terminology and how to be respectful. A lot of it is education. We wanted a policy that raises the bar and the service we give to the community,” Mueller said. “It’s hard to hold people to a standard when you don’t have written standards yourself.”
The department has 11 transgender deputies, two women and nine men. Three of them graduated from the sheriff’s academy in the last year, Mueller said.
The department already has an internal 30-page transgender employee guide — possibly the first document of its kind in the nation for a law enforcement department on how to treat and address transgender employees. A piece of departmental policy created at Mueller’s behest.
Implemented July 2, 2014, that policy includes topics such as coming out, name changes and how to be supportive toward individuals.
The massive agency — the largest sheriff’s department in the world — has approximately 18,000 employees which serve Los Angeles County, an area approximately 4,000 square miles with a population of almost 10 million people, according to department statistics.
“We hope it starts a policy of best practices with other law enforcement agencies,” Mueller said. “We would love to see it replicated across California. We hope it will be a standard.”
The Los Angeles Police Department implemented a similar policy on interacting the transgender community in 2012, and the Riverside Police Department instituted guidelines in 2014.