Updated: February 27, 2010 at 12:00 am
Last week, Colorado Springs police joined a small number of departments in the nation in educating officers about the transgender community, a surprising move in a conservative city home to religious groups that have fiercely opposed transgender-inclusive legislation.
All Colorado Springs police officers are undergoing training on how the department expects them to behave when questioning, searching or detaining transgender individuals. That is, with the same respect offered everyone else.
“This is actually historic. This hasn’t happened in many cities,” said Nancy-Jo Morris, a transgender activist who helped shape the training program.
Colorado Springs developed much of its training program, though it based a portion of it on Chicago’s program. Morris estimated that only a handful of other U.S. cities, including Lakewood, have trained peace officers on transgender-specific issues.
“Transgender” is an umbrella term that includes transsexuals, people who have started or completed the transition from one sex to the other, and cross-dressers. It is estimated that one in 10,000 males and one in 30,000 females in the United States identify as transgender.
The transgender community in Colorado Springs is estimated at 75-100 people.
Last year, Morris and other members of the transgender community asked the police department what policies were in place in relation to Senate Bill 200, a controversial piece of legislation passed in 2008 that brought transgender individuals into recognition under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Laws.
The law makes it legal for members of the transgender community to use the gender-specific public bathroom of their choice, a provision that earned it the nickname the “Bathroom Bill,” by conservative groups such as Focus on the Family that tried to convince Gov. Bill Ritter to not sign it.
“We didn’t have any kind of specific guidance in respect to Senate Bill 200 and the transgender commuity. This presented a unique opportunity to go further than (the law),” said Sgt. Steve Noblitt. “We want to equip officers with the right terminology so they know where they need to go and where they don’t need to go.”
Over the next month or two, Springs police are required to view and be tested on a 30-minute DVD produced by the training academy.
The training instructs officers that transgender identification is up to the individual. Officers are required to ask individuals if they identify as transgender if their IDs do not match their gender presentations and to use pronouns based on a transgender person’s chosen identity.
Searches are to be conducted by officers with genders matching the transgender person’s preference. Transgender individuals are to be placed in holding cells with the gender they identify with, or, if their safety is at risk, alone.
“It is one thing to have a law on the books. It is another to have it walking the streets,” Morris said. “The police force is working very hard to break down walls.”
Once all officers are trained, the department will put an official transgender policy on the books. That may include a “split search” policy, requiring a female officer to search female parts and a male officer to search male parts on a transgender person if requested.
Anticipating that news of the pending policy shift supported by Chief Richard Myers could upset the conservative community outraged by Senate Bill 200, Noblitt emphasized that the department will pursue criminals who attempt to take advantage of the law to prey on children or the opposite sex.
“CSPD is going to concentrate on criminal behavior. It doesn’t matter what the gender,” Noblitt said.