The murder of a transgender woman in Tampa this year sparked an international discussion over the proper way for police to approach transgender victims and suspects.
The St. Petersburg Police Department responded to this concern by implementing a new policy last week to train officers how to correctly interact with the growing transgender community. By adopting this policy, St. Pete police are showing that they take the threats to the transgender community seriously.
On July 21, India Clarke, a transgender woman from Tampa, was killed in a park at the University Area Community Center in Tampa. According to The Advocate, Clarke’s death was “the 10th murder of a trans woman in the U.S. this year, nearly as many as in all of 2014.”
The officers who handled the case were criticized for using inappropriate and inaccurate language in reference to Clarke, and it attracted attention worldwide.
According to ABC Action News, Lt. Markus Hughes, the LGBT liaison for the St. Pete Police Department, stated “for lack of a better word, there’s a lot of ignorance because they don’t understand what the population is, consists of and is involved with it, so I think this is a good way to get everyone on the same page.”
Hughes also stated “It’s been like a silent part of the community that’s been dealing with these issues for many years and it’s just coming to the surface now.”
The policy was accompanied by training for 50 police officers who will, in turn, train their peers. These officers learned how to correctly use pronouns, respectfully and efficiently conduct searches, and the basics on how to properly treat a transgender individual, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Hopefully, the training undergone by local officers will help alleviate the fear and mistrust held by the transgender community toward police.
According to Channel 8 News, Hughes said the transgender community was “concerned about when they are involved with law enforcement, what pronoun are they going to call me … How will I be searched? How will I be treated in the jail and just because law enforcement has contact with me, will they think I’m a prostitute?”
The concerns held by the community caused Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway to create the training program so the officers can get ahead of the issue and be a benefit to the entire local population.
The desire to be proactive in the issue demonstrates the productive attitude all police officials should bear. No one should fear law enforcement. Everyone should feel safe enough to reach out to officials if there is a problem. St. Pete police are stepping up to ensure that their entire community will be safe under their protection.
Hopefully, other police departments will follow their lead and begin to educate their officers on the proper way to respond to the transgender community. With just a small amount of training, a formerly ignored group will be able to feel safe and respected by those serving to protect them.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass