Police are ‘Failing to Protect and Serve’ Trans People, Says Report

A new report by the National Center for Transgender Rights details the various ways in which the police service falls short of truly protecting trans citizens.

Trans people face widespread discrimination across nearly every level of society, and trans people have been reporting the problematic and even hostile treatment they have faced while interacting with law enforcement for years. Trans people are around 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence than the general population, so having firm policies to prevent such behavior is critical.

This latest report tries to get to the bottom of that problem by analyzing 25 of the largest police departments in the US and grading them on 17 criteria. Those criteria—developed from model policies by leading criminal justice experts and nearly 40 LGBTQIA organizations and affiliates—looked at areas that are of particular concern to trans people. For example:

  • Was there trans-specific training at a police department?
  • Did the department have strict and clear bans on sexual conduct between police staff and detainees?
  • Were trans healthcare needs taken into account during detainment?

The report finds a number of concerning issues, chief among them that no department has regular training for staff of all ranks on how to interact with trans people.

Of course, some officers will lead with compassion in their interactions, but without firm policies in place, it is difficult if not impossible to have proper oversight. Similarly, no department in this research had areas to record detainee names if they are different from their legal name, though one department did have areas to record gender markers.

These aren’t the only areas where they found such lack of forethought. Of the 16 departments with holding facilities, only six had specific guidance for how to house trans people. The report found that only two departments of those rated by this report had a clear policy preventing officers from restricting trans people from using public or department restrooms.

In addition, only two departments had a policy officially allowing trans people to keep items that maintain their gender identity, such as hair pieces or a chest binders/prosthetics.

Of the sixteen departments with holding facilities, only four “adequately” provided trans detainees with access to their hormone medications. This is important, as even short interruptions to those medications can have potentially serious side-effects.

Lastly, only two departments had explicit bans on sexual conduct between officers and detainees.

Of course, policies on the books do not necessarily translate into good (or bad) treatment in the field. Just because a police department has a trans-inclusive policy doesn’t mean officers are following through correctly. Similarly, while it is absolutely concerning that a department wouldn’t have a certain trans inclusive policy, it may be that officers do conduct themselves in ways that are sensitive to trans people.

However, we know from trans people’s testimony that, all too frequently, this is not the case and that trans people need these policies in place to ensure their safety.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, characterizes these findings as a wake-up call.

“On the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, transgender people of color remain targets of harassment, abuse, and violence,” Keisling said in a press release. “If we ever hope to end this crisis, police departments must evolve to meet the needs of the communities they have sworn to serve. The solutions we offer can lead these communities and our nation’s law enforcement to a more equitable future, but we must get there together.”

The report underscores what model policy may look like to ensure that trans people are being respected and safeguarded during their interactions with police.

These include things like clearly prohibiting “profiling, harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation” and ensuring officers use pronouns and manners of address that are congruent with the person’s gender expression or specific wishes.

This should carry through into how departments record personal details, ensuring adequate room to note and, if necessary, explain gender-related details (non-binary identity, for example).

The report also underscores the necessity of having staff administer searches in a respectful and non-invasive manner and providing individuals with the opportunity to state their preference as to who should administer that search.

Departments also need to put explicit bans in place on sexual conduct between staff and detainees.

Other model policies include training that underscores specific issues that trans people face. For example, a trans person in possession of drug paraphernalia is not necessarily engaging in illicit activity. Rather, they may use things like syringes to administer their hormone treatments.

These are not difficult or particularly costly policies to change, but they could ensure that when trans people call the police or are subject to police inquiries they feel respected and safe—just like everyone else should.

Photo credit: Getty Images.


Jan S
Jan Syesterday


Resa G
Resa G2 days ago

law enforcement fails to protect and serve people of color, so, why should transgender people be any different. bad policing. mediocre training. homophobic and racists cops dont see us as real people, so they are going to treat us as less. and , if i hear about these "bad apples" one more damm time....its up to the "good apples" to root them out, they cannot remain silent any longer.

Karen H
Karen H8 days ago

Yes, there are good cops, but the bad ones get all the "publicity". And until police departments stop covering up crimes by cops, the bad cops will rule.

pam w
pam w8 days ago

SIGH...I remember teaching my daughter that police officers were our friends and that they'd help us.

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn9 days ago


Danuta W
Danuta Watola9 days ago

Thanks for sharing

Sue H
Sue H9 days ago

Truly disturbing.

Debbi W
Debbi W9 days ago

Big surprise, with a homophobic in the white house, one who hate non-straight people of any race. He considers anyone other than straight white guys, preferably racists and sexists, horrible people and will not protect them. He has no moral compass, no morals what so ever. Being trans right now isn't very safe.

The police, in too many cities, are doing what ever the hell they want with the chief's blessing. This must stop but won't until Herr Dumfutz has been dragged out of the white house.

Anne Moran
Anne M9 days ago

Not doing their job ?? - Give em’ the boot..

Alea C
Alea C9 days ago

Cops think they are above the law, and in most cases that has turned out to be true. Now when a cop does something truly abhorrent, he gets a paid vacation.