After more than two years of pushing by transgender-rights advocates, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has quietly adopted a general order that mandates the respectful treatment of transgender detainees.
The policy has been a major goal of more than 30 community groups, which pushed for the order both within CPD and through a proposed city ordinance.
According to the CPD website, the policy went into effect Aug. 22.
"This general order is a huge step forward in a couple of ways," said Jennifer Ritter, executive director or Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC), which began work on the order in 2010.
The order mandates that police not search transgender people in an attempt to determine their gender, that officers respect preferred names and pronouns for transgender detainees and that they not use someone's gender identity as assumed cause for a crime. It further bans derogatory language against trans people.
The policy comes after years of complaints from transgender women who report that police stop them for walking at night on the assumption that they are engaged in sex work.
The order, which Superintendent Garry McCarthy signed, will result in trainings for CPD officers.
LAC began working on the order under the Daley administration after a transgender woman was allegedly harassed by police and charged with solicitation on her way home from a Lakeview grocery store in February 2010. But turnover within CPD brought by the change in mayoral administrations slowed talks.
In an effort to push the order forward, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno introduced a city ordinance that would mandate the policy. That effort was headed by LGBT-policy organization The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA), with the backing of a large coalition of LGBT groups.
Some LGBT groups, however, criticized that ordinance, stating that it was unenforceable because it placed oversight of the policy in the city council and not in the transgender community.
A similar policy has been in place in Washington D.C., but transgender advocates have said the policy failed, in large part because it left enforcement up the police and not to the community impacted.
The ordinance has not moved since the Spring, but Moreno recently stated that he hoped it would come to fruition in the coming weeks.
LGBT groups largely supported the policy. The mayor's office had also been in talks with LAC and TCRA and was seen as supportive of the effort.
It remains unclear why CPD adopted the policy without announcement. LAC had been drafting the policy with CPD for more than two years, but first heard of its adoption through a request to comment from Windy City Times.
CPD published the policy four days after an unrelated WCT request on CPD interactions with transgender youth. The order was published Aug. 21. CPD responded to the media inquiry Aug. 22.
Despite praise for the new order, Ritter said sticking points remain. Chief among them, she said, is that the policy is overly-reliant on government-issued identification. Transgender people will be classified as male or female based on their IDs, unless an individual is "post operative" and has transitioned to another gender. If IDs are not available, detainees will be classified based on their genitalia.
Such classifications can be problematic for trans people, who often do not desire or cannot afford gender-related surgeries. That classification can mean that transgender women are jailed alongside men, where they are subjected to violence and harassment at higher rates.
Still, the order requires that police transport and jail trans people alone when possible. It also states that trans detainees will have access to hormones they are taking. Lastly, the policy states that trans people carrying needles, often used for hormone injections, will not be taken as evidence of a crime.
Ritter said she is confident that the new order will improve CPD's treatment of trans people, but that it remains unclear if a city ordinance will be necessary in addition.
"If it ends up that this is not effective, then the aldermen are going to dig back in, would be my expectation," Ritter said. Right now, she said, the challenge will be getting the word out about the new policy and keeping the pressure on CPD to follow through.
Windy City Times will continue to update.
The general order can be viewed at: http://directives.chicagopolice.org/directives/data/a7a57b38-1394a4ae-75313-94a4-b606a68cfab99615.html?hl=true
Contributed reporting: Bill Healy