Minneapolis police have revamped their policies for dealing with transgender people in a partnership that advocates say likely will continue to evolve, but shows that the city is taking to heart how all of its citizens are treated.
The new rules come as law enforcement agencies in the Twin Cities and elsewhere address tensions between several demographics of citizens and police officers — including transgender people. Minneapolis is one of a handful of major cities across the country to adopt such a change.
“Hopefully, it will impact the thinking of police departments across the country” in their dealings with transgender people, added Andrea Jenkins, who runs the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota. Roxanne Anderson, a community organizer and board chair of the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, said the policy was a lengthy work in progress. It’s not just an accountability measure for officers, Anderson said, but also a tool for neighbors and others to learn.
“This policy means to trans folks a way to be able to let officers know who they are; to be able to say ‘My pronoun is they or them, or she or her or him’ Anderson said. “
Police Chief Janeé Harteau said that the new policy was not precipitated by a single incident, but underscores a recognition of the city’s growing transgender population. The new procedures, which call on officers to address people with their preferred names and pronouns, fits in with the department’s mission of “learning and growing and understanding the people we serve,” Harteau told reporters at an afternoon news conference at City Hall.
“We have to continue to evolve and grow,” Harteau said.
Harteau said the new policy, authored by department officials with the help of local advocacy groups, lays down addition rules for how officers should handle interactions with transgender people. For example, any search of a (transgender person) that goes beyond a frisk or pat-down “shall be conducted by an officer of the gender requested by the suspect,” the policy reads.
Harteau added that police have “hundreds” of interactions with transgender people every year. The department recently has begun tracking demographic characteristics, like race and gender, of drivers and pedestrians who are stopped to determine whether its officers are engaging in profiling.
The department designated one officer on its community engagement team to serve as a liaison between police and the transgender community.
Under the new policy, which went into effect in June, officers are also barred from stopping and frisking someone as a way of determining their gender or “to call attention to the person’s gender expression.” Similar policies have been enacted by police departments in New York and Seattle, which earlier this year unveiled new policy statements that called for transgender suspects who are arrested to be transported alone in a squad car to jail. Minneapolis has a similar provision.
Mayor Betsy Hodges said the new rules were building on the legacy of Minneapolis, which in 1975 adopted the first statute prohibiting discrimination against transgender people. In the following years, three more cities — St. Paul, Harrisburg, Penn. and Seattle — adopted similar laws.
Advocates said the new policy was a step toward reversing decades of discriminatory police practices against transgender people.
“For too long police have treated transgender individuals, without considering their constitutional rights and without considering their transgender status,” said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I think this reflects a new reality in which courts are increasingly recognizing that discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination.”
Phil Duran, legal director for LGBT rights organization OutFront Minnesota, said the group will continue to work with police and city officials to continue updating the protocol when needed, but said the group takes heart that the policy shows the direction the city wants to move.
“Will this policy answer every question and address every conceivable situation that could arise? Probably not.” Duran said. “It is plausible that in the coming years some kind of scenario will unfold where this policy just hasn’t anticipated.”
Hodges said that, in the wake of an “ugly national climate” of a number of issues — including the treatment of transgender people, the policy sends a message that “they are human beings with rights, and that conversation should end about whether or not that’s true.
“We see you, we hear you, you are us and we are you,” she said. “You are our friends, you are our family, you are our community, you are our neighbors.”