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Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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Doug Wyllie

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William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Dealing with Transgender Subjects

Transgender subjects are often misunderstood by officers. Targeted training can better prepare cops for this challenge.

January 04, 2013  |  by James Parlow

A transgendered ("TG") prostitute moments after being arrested by undercover LAPD officers. Photo: Paul Clinton
A transgendered ("TG") prostitute moments after being arrested by undercover LAPD officers. Photo: Paul Clinton

Officers must often protect and serve members of special groups. Providing this service can bring challenges that demand agency guidance or targeted training.

One such group that has rarely been seen or contacted by officers in the past has become empowered to step out and live openly in their communities. They are the transgender individuals.

On every continent there is at least one culture that gives social recognition to individuals who don't fit the gender binary of male or female. Only until recently has medicine made it possible to match the individual to their appearance with surgical procedures. Our Western societies have forced these individuals underground (into "the closet") to survive by avoiding ridicule and persecution.

Being transgender has nothing to do with who you are attracted to for sex; it is not attached to sexual attraction identifiers such as being gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual. You can be transgender and also be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, straight, or none of the above. Being trans is about your gender identity; it's who you feel and know you are. Our society develops a spectrum of gender possibilities from ultra-masculine to ultra-feminine and every variation in-between.

So why is this issue a challenge for law enforcement and corrections?  Suppose you stop an individual for a traffic violation and the driver, by all appearances, is a male. Yet, when you obtain the driver's license, it gives the legal name as Jane and shows the sex as "(F)emale." My students often respond to this example by assuming the subject is trying to conceal their true identity.

Other issues present themselves. During an arrest, who would do the pat-down? Would you address the subject as James or Jane, ma'am or sir, and he or she in your report? Anyone know the gender-neutral pronouns? If I had to be incarcerated, would I be placed with the male population because of the way I currently look or with the female population because of the physical attributes I was identified as having at birth?

Either way presents a dilemma for officers and administration, especially when safety of the transgender person or the other inmates is part of the decision process of placement for confinement. What about the prescription medicines I carry? Will you take them away or let me continue with them?

Normal reactions to meeting someone for the first time who is transgender is usually at first curiosity and then fear and disgust. Often times, it is the fear that encourages us to react with disbelief, skepticism, or intolerance. Being transgender is not contagious or a mental illness, yet some officers still make jokes, mock, and tease someone who is different from them. They bully, harass, disrespect, insult, and hurt persons that don't fit into their idea of what a person's gender identity.

As a result of officer harassment, the LAPD had to create policy to stop its officers from conducting crotch pat downs to determine the "real gender" of a person. In the Chicago area, the Cicero (Ill.) Police Department was ordered to pay $10,000 for harassment of a transgender individual that they "stopped, searched, and harassed," reports the Chicago Tribune.

As of September, the Chicago Police Department now has a general order on how its officers will conduct themselves with transgender individuals. Other metro-sized departments have begun outreach initiatives, created policies, and assigned special liaisons to work with transgender communities. Agencies want to avoid situations where officers take out frustrations and fear against unique persons.

In 2002, San Francisco Police were slapped with a $25 million lawsuit claiming officers allegedly harassed and demeaned a transgender person, by laughing and making fun after purposely exposing the person to officers of both sexes, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The suit is ongoing.

Other lawsuits are being pushed into the courts. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Justice released decisions that identify and protect the rights of transgender persons.

In a recent national survey of the transgender communities, nearly 46% said they were uncomfortable with seeking police assistance. They made statements such as, "Enough of this harassment comes from cops that I can't imagine a situation in which I'd either report it to the police or want them to intervene."

Officers will be challenged to work with and respect transgender individuals rights regarding the use of public restrooms and other traditionally sex segregated facilities. Officers will have to be able to recognize hate crimes within the LGBT community and within LGBT couples for proper investigations.

Our schools are currently addressing harassment and bullying problems. How many of these situations arise out of children being targets because of LGBT issues? All of these examples are areas are where law enforcement must step up, train, and educate themselves to be prepared to respond appropriately.

We face many things on the street every daily that can bring harsh judgments and lawsuits. This is one area where simple training and awareness would go a long way toward protecting the rights of people not commonly understood by officers.

I encourage departments to add a unique individual to a civil lawsuit mitigation program and provide group training to assist officers with the challenge they face on the street. Awareness is knowledge. Knowledge is empowering. Being empowered allows for compassion and understanding for both communities.

James Parlow is a retired police officer with 15 years of experience. He currently serves as a Minnesota P.O.S.T. coordinator at Winona State University where he is an assistant professor specializing in law enforcement instruction.


Enforcing Vice In Hollywood

Comments (17)

Displaying 1 - 17 of 17

Michi Eyre @ 1/4/2013 8:56 AM

Other things to remember:
- Not all trans people are prostitutes. There are many of us who are working professionals while many are still looking for employment.
- In many states, trans people can have their IDs reflect their identified gender, even without the surgery. US Passports and cards are also the same way.
- Not all trans people can have the surgery due to health or financial reasons. Don't assume gender by what is between their legs.
- It is not appropriate to ask someone for their "real" or "birth" name. This happened to me in a traffic stop in Arkansas a couple of years ago. (I have a DL that is congruent with my identified gender)

Trans people are just like all other people, there are good and bad in our ranks but take the time to learn about our medical condition and you will understand us.

Rebecca Juro @ 1/4/2013 9:07 AM

Hello. I'm not a police officer, but I am a transsexual woman living in central New Jersey. I found this article through a posting on Facebook. I'd like to point out that the problem of police bias against transgender people is just as bad, if not worse, in small local jurisdictions as in big cities. In my area, the police departments of both Newark, New Jersey and New York City are currently being sued by transgender people for mistreatment, but it happens in local townships as well.

As an example, several years ago I owned an old car that developed a small leak in the gas tank, just enough to emit an odor of gasoline and a small puddle under the car. My next door neighbor called the police to complain. When they knocked on the door, I answered and they told me I had to get the car off the street. They offered to follow me to my local mechanic about a mile away and were very nice and accommodating until I presented my driver's license, which had not yet been changed to reflect my new gender.

Once the officers realized I was a transsexual woman their attitude toward me changed as if someone had flipped a switch. Suddenly, my car had to be immediately towed and impounded and I was told in no uncertain terms that if I dared to question them they'd be arresting me as well (for what was never made clear).

That's the kind of treatment trans people get from police as a general rule, and that's why most of us would never look to the police for help. Everything they say and do when interacting with us sends the message that we're more likely to cause ourselves more problems by calling the cops then we'd solve.

I submit to you that if you want the trust of transgender people, it will have to earned, not demanded.

Thanks for listening.

Jess Colyer @ 1/4/2013 9:20 AM

A well written and informative article. Thank you. Most people do not know I am transgender by looking or talking to me and I would like to keep it that way. There are a lot more of us everywhere than society thinks and most of us keep to ourselves and rarely cause any trouble. I have a high respect for law enforcement and now the respect will be even greater since reading this. I hope that ALL law enforcement individuals will take this article into consideration moving forward.

Stay Safe =-)


wesley @ 1/4/2013 9:47 AM

The stigma and assumptions that the accompanying photo represent really detract from what is otherwise a very informative and sensitive article is really a shame. Not to mention labeling the individual in the photo as a "prostitute" seems pretty inaccurate from a law enforcement perspective, as it appears to me she is only being arrested, thus couldn't yet be charged with, let alone found guilty of a crime at the time of the photo.

Stacey @ 1/4/2013 9:56 AM

Great that a Law Enforcement Professionals Magazine is addressing this issue, but it was poor editorial judgement to feature a picture and caption that perpetuates the stigma that Trans Women are often sex workers. Such perpetuation of ideas is also why I have been stopped on DC sidewalks when out clubbing with cisgender and transgender girl friends. I'v worked as a law and public policy professional, including at the US Senate, for over a decade.

Jimprlo @ 1/4/2013 1:34 PM

I apologize for the photo that was used as I did not submit a photo with the article.

Penny @ 1/4/2013 5:05 PM

My initial interest in this story turned into wonderment. Obviously originating from a backward 3rd world country, I really hope the occupants can eventually live without interference from uneducated, ignorant people and finally find freedom to live as they please x.

Abigail Brower @ 1/4/2013 11:14 PM

I have to give props to the N. Chas SC PD. I live in a high crime area and have been stopped and searched many times while cycling. My ID does not match my presentation and yet they have unfailingly addressed me as Maam(I am MTF TS). I explain my status and the officers are polite and understanding. Kudos to Chief Zumalt!

Cathy Brennan @ 1/7/2013 5:26 AM

The Burke case in San Francisco is NOT ongoing. It was settled in 2005. See

Donald @ 1/15/2013 5:58 AM

Retired cop here... as a lieutenent, what i did and had my officers do when dealing with transgendered folks was to simply say/ask, "I'm not trying to be smart here, but so I can fill out my paperwork correctly, should I put male or female? Should I call you sir or ma'am?" We can't be expected to know the correct way to address every person's specific situation, so I found that respectfully asking that individual person made everyone's involvement easier.

Ret deputy @ 1/31/2013 10:24 AM

After reading the article little was said of officer safety. If a pat down search is done to check for weapons and a same gender can't be determined,I would conduct the search and worry about the safety of the public and officers first.

Grace Annam @ 1/31/2013 7:37 PM

Thank you, Michi, Rebecca, wesley, Stacey.

Donald, good call. "How should I refer to you?" is a great way to show courtesy and respect while getting the job done.

Jimprio, thank you for noting that the photo selection was not yours.

On the topic of medications: if you have a person in custody, unless you suspect a medical issue and are therefore calling a medical professional to make an assessment, of course you continue to administer the medication in accordance with the prescription. There are many medications where sudden removal can cause medical problems.

Some trans people are police officers, and vice versa. Like me. 18 years on the job, and counting. My fellow officers should be aware that this is not always an us-and-them situation.

Be safe, everyone.


Capt David LA County @ 2/3/2013 10:23 AM

let's face it, if you are 'different', there is a strong possibility you will get harrassed..right or wrong, it will happen.

jimprlo @ 2/7/2013 7:37 AM

Thank you all for the support.
Capt. LA Co. -- does this mean if you wear your hair (shaved)or dress (suit and tie) differently from me that it's OK to harass you? The point being we are talking about uninformed persons drawing their lines of difference based on personal preferences and objections.
If we are to agree with you that any difference attracts harassment, then any woman dressing up validates an attack or driving a tricked-out vehicle validates a 'fish'n' stop based on difference.
I have to disagree with you--harassment done because someone is different from your personal view (not a legal view)of rightness is always wrong.

Jennifer Powers @ 4/30/2013 7:28 AM

I have a bachelors in criminal Justice and served 6 years active duty prior to coming out. I would love to assist anyone who would like some serious professional advice about policies or are looking to simply CYA from a lawsuit. As a pre law lawyer, I'm not in this for the money yet. I am just a volunteer, trying to make a better understanding amongst two very different communities. Trust me when I say this is not a choice for us all of us would choose to be normal. There is a lot of medical evidence to support my information. Including over 200 postmortem autopsies, which involved examining our brains confirming the mismatch of mind and body.

Dr. Oliver Blumer,DC @ 4/30/2013 7:56 AM

The picture does not how face , which is good. Even though it is a fact that a segment of the Trans* communities rely on underground economies to survive, this not the only Trans* populations that law enforcement encounter. Just stopping some one for a minor violation in their car could set up a situation. Police not trained to be sensitive and finding that the drivers license may not match Tge drivers gender expression is not a reason to harrase, or arrest. Sensitive and intentional Questiining to ask for a " travel" letter may resolve the suspicion of wrong doing. Tge travel letter is from therapist and states the several important facts, pronouns to be used, person is in Reallife Experince ( all part of a medical Standard of care).

Jan Redfern @ 7/5/2014 4:04 AM

Here are two articles on this topic that might be of interest.

Redfern JS. Nationwide survey of attitudes of law enforcement personnel towards transgender individuals. J Law Enforcement. 2014;4(1):1-24. Available at

Redfern JS. Best practices to improve police relations with transgender individuals. Training and Education section. J Law Enforcement. 2013;3(4):1-17. Available at

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