BART Police Could Get Guidelines on How to Interact With Transgender People

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A BART police officer rides one of the system's trains.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A BART police advisory board is considering a new policy that would establish a directive for how the department's 200 officers should interact with transgender people.

The proposed policy, hailed as a great first step by transgender advocates, was to be considered Monday by BART's Citizen Review Board, which makes recommendations to Police Chief Kenton Rainey.

Transgender people, especially trans women of color, are routinely profiled as criminals by police, said Ilona Turner of the Transgender Law Center, which helped craft the policy with the National Center for Transgender Equality.

"Transgender women of color are often assumed by police to be sex workers, and this leads to an overall fear of interaction with law enforcement officers of any kind by many, many transgender people," said Turner.

Turner pointed to the largest national survey of transgender people, released in 2011, which found that 22 percent reported being harassed by police. The rate was highest for African-American trans women: 38 percent reported being harassed by law enforcement. Overall, 44 percent said they were uncomfortable seeking assistance from police.

More than 6,000 people took part in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
More than 6,400 people took part in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Turner said the center's legal helpline has definitely heard from transgender people who have had negative experiences with BART police.


"The policy is basically a primer for police officers about how to treat transgender folks with respect. It's pretty simple," said Turner.

Mark Smith, BART's independent police auditor, said the policy was proposed by a member of the review board following a training session that he and some members of the police staff attended.

The draft policy instructs officers to call transgender people by their preferred names and pronouns that match their gender identity. It's all too common, Turner said, for officers or security guards to use pronouns that match what they think a person's assigned sex was at birth.

"That kind of thing can be really harmful, painful and abusive," said Turner. "This policy makes clear that that's not appropriate."

The proposed policy also states that "under no circumstances may an officer frisk, search or otherwise touch any person for the purpose of obtaining information about that person's transgender status."

That includes prohibiting officers from removing any items of clothing, wigs or prosthetics from a transgender person if they wouldn't do the same for a non-transgender person, said Turner.

Smith said BART officials did some research and found only a handful of law enforcement agencies have implemented policies on how to interact with transgender people.

The guidelines would become part of BART's police manual, and officers would be required to "learn it, be responsible for following it and be subject to misconduct if they violate it," Smith said.

The policy, according to a BART press release, does not "deal extensively" with "housing suspects, or how they are accommodated long-term, because BART Police generally remove suspects to facilities in the jurisdiction where issues occur, which have their own policies."

Asked if it would also require officer training, Smith said that would be a next step after the policy is adopted. It is ultimately up to BART's police chief to adopt the policy, but Smith said he has been supportive and involved in drafting it.

“Adopting a policy isn’t going to eliminate problems overnight,” Harper Jean Tobin, policy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was quoted as saying. “But the larger changes that need to happen can’t happen without these kinds of actions.”