Capitol Police rolled out a progressive new policy on Oct. 29 for handling interactions with transgender individuals.
The six-page directive, obtained by CQ Roll Call, instructs officers on security screening, frisks, medical treatment and arrests for a population that the Justice Department defines as particularly vulnerable. One of the most high-profile cases in police treatment of transgender people centered on the Washington Metropolitan Police Department's mistreatment of Patti Hammond Shaw , a transgender female who filed a landmark suit involving MPD and members of the U.S. Marshals.
"It's one thing to have a good policy in place; it's another how it is communicated and implemented," Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of ACLU of the Nation's Capital in an interview. "With Patti Shaw, there was a decent policy in place."
Already, the rank and file are bristling at the new directive. The Capitol Police union said it opposed "giving any special provisions based on gender and/or sexuality," according to an internal email obtained by CQ Roll Call.
But the top brass takes pride in its policy, which mirrors the policy MPD agreed to after agreeing to an undisclosed monetary settlement with Shaw in 2014.
"Protecting the rights and dignity of all whom we come into contact with every day is our standard," Capt. Kimberly Schneider said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "Respectfully handling interactions with transgender individuals is a critical community relations topic in law enforcement and the USCP’s policy comports with other law enforcement agencies and with local and federal laws."
The agency's policy was developed with extensive research and review of policies from police departments in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Frederick. Md.
"The Department is continually leading and striving to be at the forefront of social issues and embraces such hallmarks of contemporary policing," Schneider said.
ACLU said there's nothing "particularly terrible" about the Capitol Police policy, which requires cops to ask transgender individuals if they object to being searched by a male or female officer, among other provisions.
Only one provision could be improved, Hopkins-Maxwell said. It mandates transgender arrestees be placed alone in holding cells, even when more than one transgender person is in custody at the same time. It's a guideline Hopkins-Maxwell said has "no basis, unless they specifically request to be separated."
Those concerns may be less important for Capitol Police, who lock up protesters and other troublemakers for periods of hours, rather than days or weeks, like a jail.
Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said unless a transgender person feels very unsafe, police should place them in cells according to their gender identity. She also said police should ask if transgender people have a gender preference for the officer performing a frisk, rather than asking if they object.
"There are definitely ways we think it could be strengthened, but nothing in it jumps out as a red flag," Tobin said. "I think it's really important for agencies to adopt policies that address these issues expressly."
Both ACLU and NCTP emphasized that the transgender policy is only as good as the system of training and accountability within the department.
But the deeply fractured relationship between management and the union suggests bringing some officers on board with the policy could be tough.
"[T]he fact that the Department would think an officer would conduct a search or a frisk just to determine an individuals birth gender is ludicrous and demeaning," Jim Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee's executive board, wrote in an email to the department's labor relations manager. Konczos accused the department of ignorance to gender diversity.
Despite the union's aversion to the language, advocates said cases of alleged abuse and mistreatment — including Patti Shaw's — prove that spelling out those policies is imperative.
"I wish it were the case that police didn't have to be told this," Tobin said on the frisk policy, adding, "unfortunately, it has proved to be a common police practice in the past."