LAPD has new policy on transgender stops, searches

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police will have to think twice about calling someone “Ma’am” or “Sir” according to a new policy on interacting with the transgender community during stops and searches.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police will have to think twice about calling someone "Ma’am" or "Sir" according to a new policy on interacting with the transgender community during stops and searches.

That’s the word from Chief Charlie Beck, who issued guidelines Thursday telling officers to "respect the expressed gender and do not question it," according to the memo issued to all department personnel.

The department also will begin housing arrested transgender men and women in a women’s jail by the end of the month, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

This is a major change," Capt. Dave Lindsay said, that will allow for "an environment that’s safe and secure, as there’s been a history of violence against transgender people" in jail.

The policy is the latest step in the long process of making the Los Angeles police a more sensitive and professional force by ensuring police contacts with the transgender community are respectful and courteous, said Beck.

When in doubt, the memo tells officers to rely on what a transgender person may be wearing or their language and demeanor, and respectfully call the person "sir" or "ma’am" accordingly as they would in any stop.

The memo also bars officers from frisking individuals or questioning them for the sole purpose of learning their anatomical gender.

As with non-transgender stops, when an immediate body search for weapons is required for safety, officers of any gender may conduct the search.

In a less urgent situation where a transgender person is under arrest, they may declare a preference for a male or female officer to conduct the search, and will be accommodated if there is no perceived risk to officer safety.

Requests to remove wigs, prosthetics or cosmetics will be "consistent with requirements for the removal of similar items from non-transgender individuals," according to the memo.

The San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center applauded the LAPD’s new policies. The center said it has received many complaints from transgender people saying they’ve experienced police harassment.

"This is a huge victory for transgender people who may interact with the police, and for transgender inmates," said Masen Davis, the center’s executive director.

The center teamed with community advocates and the city human relations commission to provide recommendations for the policy change.

University of California, Irvine Dean of Social Ecology Val Jenness says other cities — including Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. — already have similar policies in place.

Jenness, whose research focuses on transgender people, said the policy is a good first step, but training and follow-up will be necessary to protect the transgendered community.

"Policies like this codify an organization’s values and express them to the community. The LAPD is trying to commit to respecting the transgender community with its policies," Jenness said. "I wish policies like this had been in place a long time ago."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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