The St. Paul Police Department is joining a national movement by drafting its first policy dedicated to the treatment of transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
The department released the draft version Tuesday and called a public meeting to help shape a final policy it hopes will be adopted later this year.
"People of color and trans folks do not feel safe around police, and we really need to work on those relations, so I think that by having St. Paul issue this policy, it's a step in the right direction," said Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride.
Some of the guidelines include: police personnel will use a person's preferred pronouns; people can request an officer of a specific gender for body searches "unless there are exigent circumstances"; police cannot remove a person's appearance-related items, such as wigs and prosthetics, unless there is a safety risk; and the department will provide appropriate restrooms.
Transgender people can also be transported alone upon their request, and people cannot be stopped or searched in order to determine gender.
The policy said that police are required to use the gender and name on a person's government-issued identification on police reports, but will include preferred genders and names elsewhere in reports.
St. Paul's draft policies mirror similar police policies across the country, said Dru Levasseur, senior attorney and director of the Transgender Rights Project for Lambda Legal, a national legal organization advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ people and those living with HIV.
"We're seeing these around the country," Levasseur said. "It's good for transgender and gender nonconforming people to see that they have protections in their interactions with police."
Levasseur and Lambda Legal have helped shape several police policies across the country involving the transgender, gender nonconforming and LGBTQ communities.
Levasseur said he could find no glaring omissions or missteps after a review of St. Paul's draft policy.
"I think what is unique to this one — St. Paul — I appreciate that they have opened it up for community comments the way they did online," he said. "That hopefully facilitates more voices in the process."
The department created an online portal for residents to submit feedback on the policy.
But Bryana Smith, chairperson of the Minnesota Transgender Alliance, said she didn't appreciate the policy's definition of gender nonconforming as people "assumed to be lesbian, gay or bisexual."
"This doesn't make any sense at all," she said. "A person's sexual preference is not based off their gender identity."
Police spokesman Steve Linders said the draft policy was crafted after a review of a dozen similar policies across the country and the U.S. Department of Justice's guidelines on 21st century policing.
Many of the issues had been previously covered piecemeal in other policies, he said, but the department moved to unite them under a singular policy that would inform sworn and civilian staffers' interaction with people inside the department and in the community.
Chief Todd Axtell "made it a priority to take a hard look at all our policies and make sure it aligned with our values and best practices," Linders said, adding that training on the issue will also be provided.
Police said that no particular incident prompted the change, but some local LGBTQ activists couldn't help but recall the controversial case of Chrishaun "CeCe" McDonald, a transgender woman who was imprisoned for manslaughter for killing Dean Schmitz on June 5, 2011, after a brawl outside a Minneapolis bar.
"CeCe McDonald is the poster child for police violence against trans women of color," Belstler said.
Minneapolis police announced its transgender and gender nonconformity policy in 2016, saying at the time that no event had precipitated the move.
"I would encourage, on the national scale, for police departments not to wait until something bad happens or when there's a lawsuit or when somebody dies in the hands of the police," Levasseur said. "Do it now."
He urged St. Paul police to monitor and track compliance with the new policy.
"There needs to be some accountability," Levasseur said.
The public meeting is scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 31, at the Richard Rowan Training Center, 600 Lafayette Road N.