BART police adopt policy regarding transgender passengers

BART police, shown here during a Sept. 2011 protest, must now follow new guidelines in regard to treatment of transgender passengers. MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER
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Transgender passengers on BART should have a new experience when dealing with the rapid transit system’s police force.

Last week, BART police officially adopted a new policy governing how they deal with transgender people, which includes data collection as well as protocols on properly addressing people during police interactions. All officers must be trained under the new rules.

The policy, which will govern the roughly 200-officer department, came out of the department’s civilian oversight body.

“This policy is definitely a really important first step to reducing harassment,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center, which had a hand in crafting the policy. Such policies matter, said Hayashi, because transgender people have disproportionately been targeted for criminalization by police.

The policy, while not rooted in any specific incidents, came out of concern for the history of mistreatment of transgender people at the hands of police, according to one BART police oversight official.

”They have suffered disproportionate treatment…by law enforcement” said Mark Smith, BART’s independent police auditor.

Smith, whose staff helped draft the policy, says BART looked across the country for a model and found few other places with specific policies on transgender people. While he could not say if the policy is a first for the nation’s law enforcement, he did say there are “not a whole host of written policies.”

Hayashi agreed, saying there are only a few other departments with such policies. But cities like Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco are all examples of departments with decent policies on how to deal with transgender people.

Policies like this matter, said Hayashi, because “It’s dangerous when [officers] don’t know how to interact with… the needs of a community” said Hayashi. He added there are myriad examples of police harassment of transgender people and the center has heard from locals about abuse and harassment locally, including from BART.

BART Police Citizen Review Board member Les Mensinger originally brought the subject up to the board after hearing about issues around transgender people and police.

“Over a year ago I was on a conference call where I was listening to a conversation concerning the problems in the transgender community as pertaining to confrontation with law enforcement and some of the horror stories these people had to endure,’ said Mensinger.

“At the time I thought to myself, I live in the Bay Area which is a region known for its diversity and forward thinking. We must have a superior policy on this that we can model for others. I was shocked when looking into this matter that there was little to no policy on this subject.”

After conferring with the police union, the BART auditor and others, the new policy was crafted. Among other things, the new policy directs BART officers to act in the following manner when dealing with transgender people:

— “An officer should not ask questions or make statements about a transgender person’s genitalia, breasts, or transition status. If an officer does ask such questions or make such statements, that officer shall provide a compelling, professional, and articulable reason for having done so.

— “Appearance-related items, including, but not limited to, prosthetics, clothes, wigs, or makeup should not be confiscated or removed from transgender people unless such items present a safety hazard, impede the administration of medical attention, or are needed for evidentiary reasons.

— “[BART police] shall establish and maintain records concerning the number of calls involving transgender people and the corresponding police service response.

— “Whether or not the name on a person’s driver’s license or identification card coincides with the person’s gender identity, an officer shall address or refer to the person by the name that the person has used to identify him or herself. An officer shall also use the pronouns consistent with the name provided by the person.”

The policy is effective immediately, according to BART officials.

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