LAPD plans separate jail for transgender suspects

A visitor talks to a felony floor prisoner in the visiting area of LAPD's Metropolitan Jail.
(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

Responding to incidents of violence against transgender arrestees, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to open a segregated lockup for biologically male and female suspects who identify themselves as members of the opposite sex, officials said.

By early May, a 24-bed transgender module will open at the LAPD women’s jail downtown, the first such police lockup in the nation, according to Capt. Dave Lindsay, the jail division commander.

“This is a major change,” Lindsay said. It will allow for “an environment that’s safe and secure, as there’s been a history of violence against transgender people.”

City jails are for holding people only until they are arraigned in court on the charges on which they were arrested, typically a maximum of three days; then they are transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail, run by the Sheriff’s Department. The county jail will not be affected by the changes.

Up until now, transgender men and women arrested by Los Angeles police have been housed in the station closest to where they were detained — most often the jail at the Hollywood Community Police Station on Wilcox Avenue. Transgender women — men who dress and identify as women — were housed with the male population. Transgender advocates have long argued that such practices put transgender inmates at risk of being sexually assaulted or beaten.

The announcement was made at a Thursday night community meeting in Hollywood, where Police Chief Charlie Beck and command staff discussed issues specific to transgender residents. Beck told the group of about 50 that the department would train officers to refer to transgender individuals by the name and gender they prefer.

The same policy also instructs officers to treat transgender individuals with respect and courtesy when encountering them on the street and bars them from searching transgender people with the sole purpose of determining their anatomical gender.

At least one community activist hailed the announcements as a major development in the historically contentious relationship between transgender people and LAPD officers.

“This is a new LAPD,” said Karina Samala, a transgender woman and chair of the Transgender Working Group, which was formed in 2007 to collaborate with the department on changes in its policies. “The chief of police is now listening and really paying attention to our issues.”

The meeting lacked the acrimony that participants say typified past encounters between transgender people and Los Angeles police. The meeting even ended early, with only four people speaking from the audience — and three of them thanking the department.

The meeting “may have been quiet, but the amount of effort that it took to get to that point can’t be understated,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, who was part of the group working with the LAPD on the policy changes.

Davis said the move began in 2007 and involved numerous, long meetings, a survey of transgender people regarding their contacts with Los Angeles police and finally a report last year of recommended policy changes.

He said the changes reflected not just the LAPD’s willingness to listen, but also an increasing political maturity and activism among transgender people.

Beck agreed. “We’ve made some real progress,” he said, “some of the strongest progress in American law enforcement on the transgender issue.”

Asked how he would deal with officers who violate the policy, as well as any lingering culture of disrespect toward transgender people within the department, Beck replied that he was in charge of discipline and that “rules in the L.A. Police Department are meant to be followed.”