CROSSDRESSERS & THE POLICE: UNDERSTANDING LAW ENFORCEMENT'S PERSPECTIVE
by Melanie Yarborough
"If you would put yourself in our shoes, it would make our job a lot easier," says Officer Steve Johnson, a one-time guest speaker at Born Free, the Riverside County Transgender support group.
"The nature of our business dictates that not all contacts [with the Police] will be positive". And, he admits, "There has not been a lot of training on [transgender issues] in the Police Academy.... Police Officers are human. Some of us are going to respond properly, some not." But a greater sensitivity on the part of Crossdressers to the difficult job police face can go a long way towards disarming a potentially tense situation.
Steve Johnson is the Public Information Officer of the Riverside Police Department, and works directly for the Chief of Police. He goes to various groups as liaison for the Department, as well as handling media relations. He admits that this is his first major contact with Crossdresser support groups, and he recognizes his need to learn more.
Many crossdressers worst nightmare is a traffic stop or other detention by a Law Enforcement Officer. Many feel they cannot tell the truth about their situation, for fear of harassment or embarrassment. "But cops are the wrong people to lie to....The worst thing you can possibly do is lie," Officer Johnson stresses. Police are trained to look for "Red Flags" when they stop an individual. For example, multiple ID cards are one. What activity would you be involved in that would necesitate changing your identity?
Moreover, "The majority of transgendered people I come into contact with are transvestite prostitutes on University Avenue," he candidly admits. Many of them have drug habits and carry concealed weapons". Many police by instinct assume any crossdressed person is one of these. And, unfortunately, "It does you folks an injustice".
What should one do if stopped, say, for a traffic violation? Definitely do not get out of your car first-that's a very big red flag. If possible, try to have your ID ready in hand. Remember, police are trained to assume that everyone they come into contact with has a weapon. Keep you hands on the steering wheel. Make no furtive movements, even to reach for an ID. Also, listen carefully to what the police ask you. In an agitated state of mind, it's easy to let one's mind wander. But being jittery and inattentive can lead police to suspect you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Stay focused. Do everything they tell you to do, to the letter. And above all, don't lie!
Another difficult situation: what to do if stopped by store security in a Ladies' restroom or dressing room? It's best to offer to leave. Be soft-spoken, dignified, and express apology. Unless you've broken a law, they have no legal right to detain you, and probably don't want a loud commotion anyway. However, if you take a stand and insist on a God-given right to express yourself, this could easily turn into a criminal offense: disturbing the peace.
It was suggested that Police Academy training include sensitivity training on Transgender issues. But, Officer Johnson admits, "They go thorugh such intense training, I don't know if they'd even give you a day". The P.O.S.T. system (Police Officers Standards Of Training) has a very rigorous procedure to add anything new to their curriculum. There are also budget and time constraints as well. However, after graduation, officers are required to attend periodic seminars on topics such as "Cultural Sensitivity", "Domestic Violence" or "First Aid". This might be a special program which could be worked in at that time.
Police oficers are trained to have a COMMAND PRESENCE, a necessary tool in confrontations. This is often mistaken for hostility. But remember, "Your behavior dictates how I will respond. If you're low-key, professional and dignified, I'll act the same way".
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