Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

LGBT Issues In Policing

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | September 12, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: law enforcement, police, Ramapo College, teaching

I am back from the National LGBT Bar Association conference, and sitting in my office in the main corridor of Ramapo College's Social Science building, getting ready for my first class of the semester. I'm hoping that no one will "pop in" to say hi, not because I'm unsociable, but because I'm putting the finishing touches on my syllabus for today's class. But of course it's already happened six times, and shutting the door just makes it worse with the knocking etc.

The class is "Contemporary Issues In Policing," one of our electives, which we try to offer at least once every two years. Since most of our students in the Law and Society major want to be in law enforcement, it's a popular class, and the class is full. Of course, the question, as always, is how I can integrate issues of social justice that police officers of the 21st century need to know. The students want to get in and out as quickly as possible, and get the highest grade possible, which is entirely understandable, and it's my job to get them to learn anyway.

They want the course to be a cross between CSI and Ghost in the Shell, and I want the course to train potential officers to understand the world they're about to enter into with a badge and a gun. As with all my courses, diversity issues will be included at various points throughout the course, not at the end in a separate section, because they are in the forefront of 21st diversity issues. With the US rapidly becoming a majority non-white country, and the population aging, and more LGBT people coming out, it will be a very different thing to be a police officer in 2020 than it was in 1950, 1980 or 2010.

Here's the course description:

This course explores the history and scope of the relationship between the police and the community. Community relationships are examined from psychological and sociological perspectives. The course analyzes police issues such as media relations; citizen grievances; civilian review boards; selection, training, and education of personnel; police professionalism; discretionary use of police authority; police unionism; crime prevention; and the role of women in police agencies.

You see how the course is designed to analyze policing from the point of view of the community, rather than looking at policing as an exercise in tactics? The highly-regarded textbook I'm using, Millie and Das's "Contemporary Issues In Law Enforcement and Policing," aside from being ridiculously expensive, follows along these lines. Although it stays away from controversial issues of race, class, gender and sexuality, its framework is perfectly designed for supplementation in these areas.

Here's some of the things I'd like to introduce my generally very conservative law enforcement students to, among other things:

1) policing roles in hate crimes, including those involving sexual orientation and gender identity, and why police often have a problem with enforcing such laws,

2) use of "crime against nature" statutes to force trans people to register as sex offenders

3) the experience of the DC force in regard to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit

4) what does it mean to be a minority law enforcement officer, including racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities?

5) the "authoritarian personality,", and its relationship to organizational stressors,

6) why police routinely disparage and/or abandon their role in domestic violence situations, rape allegations and crime victim care.

I'd like to show them some films, too, like Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line", "Blade Runner", "Serpico" and "Crash".

It's going to be an interesting semester. Do you have any suggestions for other issues, articles, and/or films that law enforcement students should be introduced to?

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I realise this is an introductory class, and for a relatively conservative student body, but, it might still be helpful for them to understand the problems behind the institutions they hope to enter, and how and why law enforcement is usually considered part of the problem.

A book: Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics (Studies in Crime and Public Policy), James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter.

Another, a recent one edited by Eric Stanley, which is unique in its queer abolitionist perspective: Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (disclosure: I've got a piece in here).

A couple of websites: Against Equality on hate crimes and the prison industrial complex: www.againstequality.org

and Black and Pink's excellent compilation: http://www.blackandpink.org/revolt/a-compilation-of-critiques-on-hate-crimes-legislation/

I would also encourage them to read material and statistics on the acts of violence committed *by* law enforcement. That's a far bigger problem for many street-based people, including sex workers, many of whom are also queer and/or trans-identified.

There are ongoing campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against police brutality and violence; here's one group on fb that might be useful to look at:


And there are several instances of police brutality and violence.

There's also some excellent and revealing material about immigration enforcement and queers in Eithne Luibheid's book, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border. Rape and coercion against immigrants on the border is a documented problem.

As for sex offender registries: the registries are the problem. Taking queers, gays, lesbians, and trans folk off them or getting rid of "crimes against nature" statutes does not make them better. Just my two cents for now.

These are not LGBT issues but two that come to mind ---
In Seattle, Native American carver John T Williams was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer. The police officer thought he looked suspicious, and saw the (legal) carving knife, called at him to drop it, but John Williams was hard of hearing and didn't respond, the officer panicked and shot him. The tragic incident and the response to it by the police department, the city and the Native community would make a good case study.
Charles Ogletree has written a book, the Presumption of Guilt, about how law enforcement treats people differently based on their race and class, in light of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. This could be good assigned reading.

It might be useful for them to actually understand why the structures they're a part of or are expected to support are part of the problem to start with.

On hate crimes legislation: Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics, by James B. Jacobs, Kimberly Potter

Eric Stanley co-edited the recent book, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, which is unique in presenting a queer, abolitionist framework (I have an essay in it). He has begun touring with it, by the way, and would be open to presenting on it (shameless plug).

Against Equality's archive has a number of pieces, including the excellent Black and Pink compilation of critiques of hate crimes legislation: www.againstequality.org

Eithne LuibhÊid's book on queers and immigration, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border, has excellent and revealing material on law enforcement harassment and rape of queers and/or women at the border.

For street-based people and vulnerable women and minorities, law enforcement is the problem, not the solution. Queers and trans-identified people are most likely to be harassed, intimidated, and brutalised by cops. There's a facebook group called Campaign Against Police Sexual Assault, based in Chicago; similar groups are cropping up in other cities.

As for sex offender registries: they are a problem unto themselves. Taking queers, gays, lesbians, and transgender people off them, by ensuring that statutes like the ones about "crimes against nature" are not enforced is obviously a need for those put on the registries. But the point is to eliminate sex offender registries, not tweak them so that we might be able to prove ourselves exceptional yet again.

I do not know how you'd incorporate this in your class, but the July shooting incident in the Bayview district of San Francisco in which the suspect was ruled by the ME to have shot himself. A good timeline of events: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/07/details-police-involved-bayview-shooting-do-little-ease-skepticism

Then there is the Oscar Grant shooting on the Fruitvale BART platform in Oakland. The community response to this event had many different shades but there was rioting during the first protest which the Oakland police department did quell until a lot of damage had been done to areas in downtown Oakland.

Both of the above events bring up the near ubiquity of video recording cell phones used by everyday citizens now. Video was recorded of Oscar Grant being shot and the police on the platform interacting with their suspects. Video was recorded of the gathering around Kenneth Harding Jr. which helped recover evidence in the case. And then there are the incidents in which cops have taken or attempted to take recording devices in which they have been recorded doing their jobs in a public setting. How will your students deal with this issue in their (future) jobs as law enforcement officials?

Rachel Bellum | September 12, 2011 9:45 PM

Hey Jillian, I'm really curious. Why Blade Runner?

Not that I don't love the movie and Philip K. Dick.

I don't know but if I had to guess, it was because it shows a cop tracking down and executing sentient beings due to laws that existed simply because of the extreme prejudice that existed against said beings in that society?

I might also suggest showing:
The scene from Boys Don't Cry where Brandon was being interviewed by the Sheriff after having been raped.
Stonewall (not a great movie by any means, but does show the police brutality that existed at the time)
Any of the documentaries about Stonewall could prove instructive as well.

Kathy Padilla | September 13, 2011 9:19 AM

I'd suggest the Amnesty International report from a few years back "Stonewalled: Police Abuse Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender People in the US" for their reading list. It would be a particularly useful piece when people are discussing CompStat.CompStat is the policing accountability reporting and oversight mechanism used in many departments as a way to decrease crimes, increase police effectiveness and reduce "broken window" types of issues.

The pairing of this study showing overzealous enforcement of certain groups with the increased enforcement requirements by departments under CompStat would highlight the targeting of groups of people for enforcement as a civil rights issue - many of the trans woman in that study were arrested to "clean up the streets" on the assumption they had to be criminals just because they were trans - yet - they were just trying to walk to work.

Beyond the trans civil rights issue - it can more generally be a failure to properly conceptualize the problem & applying the same solution to every perceived problem. As an example - there's problems with rowdy people intimidating residents etc. in a particular area - the police are called on to increase arrests. They keep arresting people over and over - but what they really have is a nuisance bar problem and they need to call in L & I.

A good one to check out for fact-checking is the national transgender discrimination survey, called "Injustice at Every Turn" and published by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in conjunction with the National Center for Transgender Equality. It has reports about employment, housing, and other such things. The important part for your students would be the section on police. Most trans people do not trust the police who are supposed to be there to protect them. Staggeringly, it's mostly trans women of color who actually fear the police. It would be a good discussion topic to bring things into perspective. My suggestion: "As a future police officer, how would you feel about someone saying they don't trust you? As a one who is intended to be a defender of the peace, how would you interpret the fact that someone actually feared you?"

Full report and executive summary of "Injustice at Every Turn" found here: http://www.thetaskforce.org/reports_and_research/ntds

Another story with an appropriate theme would be "The Balad of Beta-2" By Samual R. Delaney, where a student doing a research paper discovers how society fell apart from fear and hate due to variance from the "Norm", peoples physical traits differing from the statistical "norm" of the society. People were sentenced and put to death for deviating from the statistical norm of the population.

Got in here rather late...but just for credibility I have to state that I served 6 yrs as USAF Police, 1 yr with the CALIF Highway Patrol, and 2.5 yrs with L.A. County Police (now Sheriffs) plus many years in security supervision primarily with county/state government. Except for 6 months as a trans female (undergoing transition) I served as male. The military police experience was a typically military environment, the state experience involved accident investigation and traffic violators, and the county experience was primarily at LAC/USC hospital (campus police basically).

Although externally male, I nonetheless was female-minded and thus was never macho or the bullying type of officer; indeed working alongside pushy officers was very distasteful although most were quite professional (except with county sadly). I am not sure exactly what advantage this gives me as a transfemale other than an internal perspective. I don't have much "street cop" experience as a civilian...that is "city policing" however I did receive full California police academy training in Sacramento.

Having qualified myself, I offer the fact that many who enter law enforcement as civilians already have military or military police (as I did) experience that fosters a "macho" type personality and demeanor. I never did since I always knew my inner self was female-minded, however I excelled physically and academically. The military also fosters an anti-gay bias (again which I never had) that is part of a police officer's "package" if he has a military background. This creates an anti-gay anti-trans posture that in turn often leads to selective enforcement. I believe that the answer ultimately will be a consent decree for all law enforcement across America to promote hiring of trans officers as really the only effective way to ultimately solve this.

I believe in the meantime the best training aid for your class, aside from excellent suggestions above, would be to provide information highlighting successful trans persons in all facets of society. In this way, any negative bias against sexually/gender diverse persons would be offset by educating the students that not all trans persons are what the movies make us out to be. This would serve as a sort of antidote to preconceived notions against gay/trans/bi persons that too often result in police abuse or unfair selective enforcement.