Openly gay LA Police Commissioner Rob Saltzman, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, LA Police Commission President Richard Drooyan at the Chief's LGBT Forum at The Village April 12, 2012 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
A controlled giddiness at making history filled the theater at the LAPD Chief's LGBTQ Forum Thursday night, April 12 at The Village. Since the early 1990s when Transgender Menace activist Shirley Bushnell seemed to attend every SoCal community meeting she could pushing for simple respect, local LGBT activists have advocated for the right of transgender individuals to be treated appropriately, with dignity and respect, by law enforcement officers on the streets, in jails and in private encounters.
On Thursday night, the results of that long, hard slog seemed to come to fruition. In forceful and excited tones, LAPD Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, Karina Samala, director of the LAPD Transgender Working Group, and Shirin Buckman, who represented the city in the Transgender Working Group, talked about the emotional meeting April 10 when LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed the 3-page Notice to All Department Personnel regarding: POLICE INTERACTIONS WITH TRANSGENDER INDIVIDUALS.
The long-fought-for, historic Notice opened with the simple statement of intent:
The Los Angeles Police Department is committed to working with the diverse communities it serves. The Department has been working with the City of Los Angeles's Human Relations Commissions Transgender Working Group (TWG), the Mayor's Office, and the transgender community to establish procedures that create mutual understanding, prevent discrimination and conflict, and ensure the appropriate treatment of transgender individuals. In the absence of exigent circumstances, the guidelines below apply to all Department employees.
"We are thrilled that the procedures and policies have been published and are being implemented by LAPD today," said Samala. "This is a victory for all of us...This is a new LAPD."
LAPD Transgender Working Group Director Karina Samala reading the new guidelines as members of the Workng Group stand behind her(Photo by Karen Ocamb)
The guidelines - which are not yet posted on the LAPD website - include an explanation of the terms transgender, gender identity, and gender expression. "Quite apart from one's birth sex as male or female, an individual may identify as a particular gender and express that gender various ways," the Notice says.
The guidelines "are established to ensure police contacts with transgender individuals are professional, respectful, and courteous:
- Do not use language that a reasonable person would consider demeaning to another person, in particular language that references a person's gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation;
- Treat transgender personas in a manner that reveals respect for the individual's gender identity and gender expression, which includes addressing them by their preferred name and using gender pronouns appropriate to the individual's gender self-identity and expressions, and:
- Recognize that non-traditional gender identities and gender expressions do not constitute reasonable suspicion or prima facie evidence that an individual is or has engaged in prostitution or any other crime.
The Notice continues with explaining how to address a transgender individual- including not questioning a person's gender identification, how to conduct field searches, a reminder that "no proof of an individual's gender is required" during questioning - and this:
A search or frisk shall not be performed for the sole purpose of determining an individual's anatomical gender;
Transgender individuals shall not be subject to more invasive search or frisk procedures than non-transgender individuals.
LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara, Assistant Chief Michael Moore, Chief Charlie Beck, Police Commission President Richard Drooyan listening to presentations (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
There's more to this than just making sure trans people are not profiled for prostitution and are treated with dignity when stopped. On the afternoon before the evening Forum on April 12, the Latino/a civil rights and HIV organization Bienestar released a new report- funded by the Williams Institute - that was a scathing indictment of the LAPD for its treatment of transgender Latinos. Bienestar has had a support program for immigrant trans Latinas since 1996.
Here's an excerpt from a press release with some of the report's key findings:
- Two-thirds of participants reported verbal harassment by law enforcement.
- Twenty-one percent reported physical assault by law enforcement.
- Twenty-four percent reported sexual assault by law enforcement.
- Of those lodging a report against the police, two-thirds stated that their report had been handled "poorly" or "very poorly".
- Almost 60% of those stopped by law enforcement in the previous year believed that this had occurred without their violating any law. Many reported being stopped while doing everyday things like "coming back from the grocery store" and "waiting for the bus".
- The vast majority (71 %) described the police's interactions with the transgender community in negative terms. Typical responses included comments that police were aggressive and disrespectful and sometimes used male terms or called them "it".
As noted in the report, these negative interactions with law enforcement result in the underutilization of police services by Latina transgender women needing such services.
- Fifty-five percent reported having been a victim of a crime by others.
- Of these, only 56% actually reported the crime to the police.
- Of those reporting crimes, 57% reported that they had been treated poorly (35%) or very poorly (22%) by the police when reporting the crime to them.
"Our transgender sisters already face stigma and violence across so many facets of society, law enforcement should not be part of that discrimination," said Oscar De La O, BIENESTAR President and CEO. De La O added, "By analyzing the experiences of these 220 individuals, we can learn a lot about their interactions with law enforcement and identify next steps that we can take to improve their situation."
The report recommended comprehensive reviews of police policy, improved training, the creation of liaison units to the transgender community, and the enforcement of disciplinary action for officers who abuse their power when interacting with the transgender community.
"Respect by law enforcement is something that Latina transgender women, and all transgender people, should expect from police personnel. Actions that can promote such respect should be undertaken by both police agencies and members of the transgender community. Together these can result in improved relations between law enforcement and the transgender community," said Frank H. Galvan, Ph.D., BIENESTAR's Director of Research and Evaluation, who co-authored the report along with Mohsen Bazargan, Ph.D., of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
Since the Forum seemed primarily focused on sharing information and celebrating the new guidelines, I felt like the skunk at the party by asking questions of accountability: 1) What are the consequences if the new Guidelines are not followed? 2) How does the LAPD respond to the new data revealed in Bienestar's report?
Last question first - no one had a chance to read the report by the time the Forum started.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at the LGBTQ Forum April 12, 2012 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
But as to the consequences, Chief Beck jumped in.
Discipline for police officers is the province for the Chief of Police. Discipline is based on a number of things - it's based on an individual's history, the consequences of the act, a bunch of different things. This is a para-military organization. Following rules is part of what we base our core values on. The reason there are no specific guidelines within? Is it's all very dependent on the individual 's transgression, their history, if they've had similar misconduct. And that's how we construct discipline.
But believe me, rules in the Los Angeles Police Department are meant to be followed. This is not an organization that puts out rules and has no consequences for not following them. That is not the nature of police work - and it's certainly not the way I run the police department.
I followed up, noting that I'd heard from some LAPD officers - and perhaps this was an attitude from the past -if somebody files a complaint, they become the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation - and that middle management covers it up. Chief Beck and the officers around him - and community leaders - might have changed - but the same attitudes as the LAPD demonstrated towards LGBT people still exist. It doesn't seem that everyone adheres to the rules.
Chief Beck replied:
I won't pretend that everybody sees things exactly as I see them because that's not true. But when they're working - their performance, their behavior has to comport with the rules that I put forth. And I use my middle management, my upper management to make sure that happens.
No organization is perfect. No organization - especially no big organization - is able to undergo a complete culture change just because of an issuance of a piece of paper. But it is through consistent application of not only education, discipline, explanation so the people understand why this is in everybody's best interest - that this builds trust and partnership and all the things that we need to do to be...all the things the police department needs in order to do its job - this builds.
You know, there is no down side for the police department. All this does is builds trust. All this does is ensure that we do what we say which is: police constitutional, treat people equally, apply the law equally. And so you have my commitment.
Will this get violated? Oh, yeah. Will I take action against it? Yeah. Will I take action against whoever violated it? Yes. Will I train people so that they understand the application, so they see why this is important? Of course. So it's all about training and discipline and consistency and that's how we run this organization.
LAPD Capt. Dave Lindsay discussing the new Jail Division policy on trans arrestees with Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur looking on (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
There was another significant development. Assistant Chief Michael Moore and Capt. Dave Lindsay of the LAPD's Jail Division announced a new policy on how trans arrestees are treated and housed in jail. An important first step was Lindsay acknowledging that there has been "a history of violence against transgender people” in jail and therefore a "major change" is required to create a safe and secure environment.
Lindsay announced that when a trans person is arrested, instead of being housed in the nearest LAPD jail according to the police identification of their gender, the arresting officer will now transport the trans-identified arrestee to the downtown Detention Center where they will be housed in a section of a newly opened up women's module. There they will have access to their preference of clothes and whatever resources they might need.
Lindsay explained how this is being put into effect:
As a part of new protocols and training - offering one on one training to officers in detention, supervisors and staff, as well as line personnel as to intake, processing what items for adornment, resources that will be provided - that entire journey, if you will, through our custody is transitioning from the Hollywood station and will be in this specialized area. So we are training the entire jail staff and as this rolls out, this will also, of course, impact our filed officers as they're re-directing those personnel and those arrestees to this location.
In addition, there is video training - we do a lot electronically now, rather than trying to do classroom training. But there's been Roll Call training this past few months across the entire agency that dealt with LGBT issues of respect, dignity, values, as to individual's rights and a manner in which we treat people fairly. We're sensitive to the differences and recognize that and it's our responsibility - everyone's a leader in this organization - not just the brass. But every leader dealing with every individual needs to demonstrate that sensitivity.
There is one HUGE hitch here. The city's jails only hold people for generally a few days after arrest and before arraignment. After that, they are transferred to the custody of the LA County Jail - which is run by the Sheriff's Department. So far, neither the LA County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Lee Baca has not taken LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Chief Beck's lead and created similar guidelines, protocols and policy, despite having similar Core Values. And Sheriff Baca's Core Values specifically mentions "homophobia and bigotry in all its forms."
During the jubilation at Thursday night's announcements, several commentators noted how these changes were not only historic but could establish a model for the nation. Perhaps the next step could be closer to home.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck with LA Mayor Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff Matt Szabo and the mayor's LGBT liaison Suzy Jack, who was given much credit for the guidelines (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
LA Gay & Lesbian Center's Jake Finney, program manager of the Anti-Violence Project, and Capt. Dave Lindsay (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Very Classy: Commissioner Rob Saltzman thanks each member of the Transgender Working Group as they exit the stage (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Roger Coggan, who's been director of legal services for the LA Gay & Lesbian Center since 1990, called the LAPD's new trans guidelines "historic" (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
LAPD Transgender Working Group director Karina Samala and friend being interviewed by the LA Times (Photo by Karen Ocamb)