An SFPD officer walks down Market Street wearing a rainbow-colored sash while patrolling the Pride Parade. The Police Commission on Wednesday approved a policy requiring officers to ask people they interact with for their preferred gender pronouns. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner file photo)

Police Commission requires SFPD officers to respect gender identities

The Police Commission unanimously passed a policy on Wednesday requiring officers in San Francisco to refer to transgender, gender variant and gender nonbinary individuals by their preferred pronouns.

San Francisco Police Department officers who are unsure about a person’s gender identity will have to ask about their preferred pronoun rather than make assumptions under the new Department General Order. The policy also requires officers to ask individuals what gender officer they would prefer perform a search.

“We all want to ensure that our members have the safest and most current guidance on how to provide safety with respect,” Officer Broderick Elton, the transgender liaison for the department, told the commission.

Former Police Commission President Theresa Sparks, a transgender woman, said in a letter to the commission that the policy is “completely in-line with today’s trans culture” and encouraged the commission to approve it.

But Sparks also raised a concern over the confusion the policy would generate for officers as 2015’s Assembly Bill 953 required police to report data on the gender of a person they stop based on perception.

The DGO requires officers to rely on self-identification.

“The contradiction… puts at risk decades of mostly successful efforts to confront possible discrimination and normalized relations between law enforcement and historically disenfranchised communities,” said Sparks, who warned that the conflict could undo implicit bias training for officers.

The commission adopted a recommendation from Sparks instructing officers to ignore the state law requirement that police use their perception and instead follow the best practice of asking a person for their preferred gender pronoun.

“The training is going to have to be very clear that self-identification is the way to go,” Commissioner Petra DeJesus said at the meeting.

The policy also spells out the definitions of the different terms for officers and offers some leeway for officers in extraordinary circumstances.

For instance, an officer can perform an immediate pat down without asking about gender identity if they believe a person is armed or dangerous.

Elton offered an example of where a watch commander could also override a person’s request for a specific gender officer to perform a search under the policy.

“Say there are people at the bars drinking,” Elton said. “There are some men out there and there’s nothing about them that suggests they might be a trans individual and they say, ‘Hey that’s a really attractive female officer I want her to search me.’ That can be taken out of context and misused.”

Officers who do not follow the policy can face discipline at the commission.

“It’s not about being progressive, it’s about being respectful to our community,” Police Commission Vice President Thomas Mazzucco said at the meeting.

mbarba@sfexaminer.comCrimePolitics

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