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  • Writer's pictureMikayla Dukes

Trans Interactions with Police

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Law enforcement has a long history of profiling marginalized people, including trans individuals. These targeted practices have led to more interactions between police and trans folks, interactions that can quickly take a turn for the worse. Profiling for trans women has primarily been under the assumption that they're engaging in some sort of sex work.

Among transgender and gender diverse (TGD) people that interacted with police in 2021, over 45% reported experiencing verbal harassment. This verbal harassment often coupled with misgendering and invasive questioning regarding their transition.

An Anti-Violence Project report found that trans people are 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence and 7 times more likely to face physical violence interacting with police than cisgendered people.

Data on negative police interactions goes so much further than the individual on the receiving end. This invasive questioning, harassment, and discrimination deepens the mistrust held by many within the trans community toward law enforcement. It prompts the question, "Who are they to call?"

Who are they to call?

A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 46% of respondents are uncomfortable seeking assistance from police. This distrust has led many opting not calling the police after experiencing instances of violence. Data on negative police and their effects are concerning, and even more so when coupled with the disproportionately high rates of sexual violence, for example, experienced by trans individuals. Awareness of this discriminatory treatment by police also prompt power and control tactics against trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

Many rely on friends, family, or resources outside the criminal legal system for support. Despite this, there is widespread anti-trans legislation being passed in state legislatures across the country, fostering what the Human Rights Campaign rightfully deems to be a 'Culture of Violence'.

Between 2013-2021, about two-thirds of homicides against transgender and gender non-confirming people were committed by acquaintances, friends, family members, or intimate partners. It is urgent that police drastically improve their interactions with the trans and gender non-conforming communities to begin the work of remediating the trust broken amidst years of discrimination.

What is being done?

Despite these concerning trends, there is a glimmer of hope in the widespread efforts to improve police interactions with the trans community.

  • Groups like the Transgender Law Center have been working to provide key resources to the community and advocate for improved practices.

  • Police departments like those in San Francisco and Washington D.C. have implemented policies with specific training provisions. They refrain officers from asking certain invasive questions or removal of 'appearance related items'.*

  • IACP's Policy Center released guidelines on interactions with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to provide guidance for agencies developing culturally-considerate policing standards.

*This is an example of two police departments on the West and East Coasts of the U.S. There are many more with extensive issues to be rectified in interactions with the trans community. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) assessed the policies of the 25 largest police departments in the U.S. for 17 criteria based on common areas of interaction; none of the departments received a green score.

While these actions are steps in the right direction, initiative development should occur with the trans communities at the local level, to ensure viable implementation. Time will only tell their effectiveness in sustainably improving relations.

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