Interactions of Latina Transgender Women with Law Enforcement

April 2012
  • Frank H. Galvan
  • Mohsen Bazargan
    Professor, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science

Executive Summary

This policy brief examines interactions with law enforcement by Latina transgender women. Two hundred and twenty primarily immigrant Spanish-speaking Latina transgender women in Los Angeles County, California, provided information on their experiences with law enforcement, including police, prison guards, undercover officers and sheriffs. The data reveal a history of negative interactions with law enforcement on the part of a large number of Latina transgender women:

  • Two-thirds reported verbal harassment by law enforcement.
  • Twenty-one percent reported physical assault by law enforcement.
  • Twenty-four percent reported sexual assault by law enforcement.
  • Of those lodging a report against the police, two-thirds stated that their report had been handled “poorly” or “very poorly.”
  • Almost 60% of those stopped by law enforcement in the previous year believed that this had occurred without their violating any law. Many reported being stopped while doing everyday things like “coming back from the grocery store” and “waiting for the bus.”
  • The vast majority (71%) described the police’s interactions with the transgender community in negative terms. Typical responses included comments that police were aggressive and disrespectful and sometimes used male terms or called them “it.”

Those respondents who stated they had been jailed reported high levels of harassment and violence from other inmates and stated that correction officers often failed to protect them or address this abuse.

  • Thirty percent of those jailed reported having been verbally assaulted by other inmates, 11%physically assaulted and 10% sexually assaulted.
  • When asked to describe how law enforcement personnel responded to their reports of harassment or assault by other inmates, an overwhelming number (70%) of those who had been jailed reported that law enforcement responded in a negative manner (33%) or did nothing about the incident (37%).

These negative interactions with law enforcement result in the underutilization of police services by Latina transgender women needing such services.

  • Over half (55%) reported ever having been a victim of a crime by others.
  • Of these, only 56% actually reported the crime to the police.
  • Of those reporting crimes, 57% reported that they had been treated poorly (35%) or very poorly (22%) by the police when reporting the crime to them.

Recommendations were provided by the participants of how law enforcement’s interactions with the transgender community can be improved:

  • Increased training on transgender issues for all law enforcement agencies
  • Increased communication between law enforcement and transgender women
  • Increased knowledge of their legal rights by members of the transgender community

There are a number of actions that can be taken to achieve these objectives. Members of the Latina transgender community should be involved in the planning and implementation of training for law enforcement personnel. Each law enforcement agency should have a liaison unit that reflects the concerns of the transgender community. A review should be made of the current written policies that govern police conduct and operation policies for jails. If policy changes are needed, then the transgender community should advocate for new policies. Disciplinary action should be taken against law enforcement personnel who violate those policies and abuse their positions of authority in their interactions with transgender women. Finally, Latina transgender women should continue to participate in different advocacy and educational activities that focus on improving relations with law enforcement.

Respect by law enforcement should be something that Latina transgender women, and all transgender people, should expect from police personnel. Actions that can promote such respect should be undertaken by both police agencies and members of the transgender community. Together these can result in improved relations between law enforcement and the transgender community.

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Interactions of Latina Transgender Women with Law Enforcement