Chicago Police Department adopts transgender protections policy

Photo: Tony Merevick.

The Chicago Police Department enacted a general order that mandates protections for transgender people while in the custody of police and requires officers to be trained for the respectful treatment of transgender detainees.

The policy came without formal announcement from the police, but was commended in a news release from The Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBT rights advocacy group Tuesday.

The general order, which went into effect Aug. 22, comes after more than two years of advocacy around the issue by dozens of groups led by the Lakeview Action Coalition working with CPD and recent pushes for a transgender protections ordinance in the Chicago City Council.

Jennifer Ritter, executive director of LAC said the organization would remain vigilant as conversations continue with police and the mayor’s office.

“Creating a general order has always been the first step,” Ritter said. “There are improvements in the general order, but it is by far from ideal.”

Discussions among LAC, police and the mayor have been ongoing throughout the summer, but the police did not notify the LAC of any plans to sign and release the general order, according to Ritter.

Immediate reactions from the LGBT community suggest the general order is simply a starting point for further progress.

“This is a great first step,” said Rick Garcia, policy advisor for TCRA. “But it is just the first step. There is now a lot of training that has to be done, and we want to ensure that implementation is carried out so that every officer is aware of these new policies.”

Christina Kahrl, a board member at Equality Illinois who was also involved in talks with the city, expressed a similar reaction.

“This is progress to be sure,” Kahrl said in a statement from Equality Illinois. “This is one of the first times the police department worked with community groups to create policy. That is a huge step in the history of the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department.”

The policy, signed by CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy, sets specific principles for officers to follow, including treating individuals in a manner appropriate to their self-indentified gender expression, use of pronouns as established by the individual — pushing officers to ask for clarification — and use of a person’s name based on their gender identity instead of government-issued identification.

Officers will “…treat all persons with the courtesy and dignity which is inherently due every person as a human being. Department members will act, speak, and conduct themselves in a professional manner, recognizing their obligation to safeguard life and property, and maintain a courteous, professional attitude in all contacts with the public,” as stated in the language of the general order.

It also prohibits officers from strip-searching individuals to determine their gender identity or call attention to their gender expression, use derogatory language aimed at the person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, consider a person’s gender expression as reason to believe they engage in crime or from disclosing a detainees gender identity or expression to other detainees.

The enacted provisions come from years of work by Lakeview Action Coalition and community organizations representing pleads from the transgender community for protection during police interactions.

However, the new police policy does not include a mechanism for oversight, as pointed out by Garcia and Anthony Martinez, executive director of TCRA.

“We need to make sure that the training is done with every single officer,” Martinez said. “What are [CPD's] processes for that? What is their vision for moving forward? We will be meeting with the administration and CPD in the coming weeks and hope to gain further insight into what they see as their next steps in terms of training and implementation.”

Other cities that have enacted similar policies, they added, have failed due to lack of oversight, allowing police to carry out the policy on their own terms — without community input.

“We have seen from other cities that have adopted these policies, like Washington D.C., that implementation and training are key to a successful outcome,” Garcia said.

Earlier this year, efforts were made by Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st Ward) to introduce an ordinance in city council that would provide such oversight, but those provisions did not make it into the version of the bill introduced on the council floor. Shortly after, some LGBT and civil rights groups decried the ordinance as a compromise, and that it would be unenforceable without oversight from the LGBT community. That ordinance has since been held up in the city council, but Garcia said potential motion could happen as discussions continue with CPD.

“The ordinance is still alive, so should there be a need to create oversight as it relates to implementation and training there is that mechanism available to us,” he said.

Questions have also been raised among LGBT groups around the issue of gender identity after a transgender individual is arrested. Specifically, some advocates argue that because a person’s gender identity is determined by their government-issued ID under the policy, that individuals will be held in a lockup that might not necessarily be consistent with their presented or self-identified gender expression.

“We feel like the reliance on state-issued ID is a bit of a problem because their IDs are not always reflective of their identities,” Ritter said, claiming the provision is a weakness in the policy that could leave transgender women held alongside men, which could put them in danger of harassment and harm.

“The two most affected populations are youth trans individuals or queer folk and those who cannot afford the cost of changing their IDs, such as minors, sex workers, homeless trans individuals, low-income and elderly trans folks — the list goes on,” Martinez said. “Those two items are so key to this debate that we feel that there needs to be more discussion around this.”

The general order asks police to hold transgender detainees individually, when possible.

Ritter said the next step for LAC is to monitor the rollout of the order, including how police are trained, how they are held accountable and finding out who is overseeing compliance within CPD. If it turns out that the policy’s weaknesses are causing people to be unsafe, LAC will need to go back into talks, she said.

“So now, that is where we begin in earnest, is those conversations,” said Ritter. “We’re going to try to come up with a good way to get the word out in the trans community, particularly trans youth and trans youth of color who are often targeted by the police.”

After identifying weaknesses in the order, Ritter is cautious of celebrating.

“It’s hard to nail down a moment to feel really good … nothing feels black and white. We have to feel good about that there’s something that the police officers are held accountable to,” she said.

“Sadly, we’re not even remotely done.”

The full text of the policy can be read here.