The Rochester Police Department is one of the few in New York State that has protocols for interacting with the transgender community, says City Council member Matt Haag.
"This is pretty unusual," he says. "I think it's something we should be proud of in Rochester, that our police department initiated this kind of leadership."
The trans-inclusive protocols offer a roadmap for police officers when they come in contact with trans individuals either as victims of crime, Haag says, or as suspects
The protocols were developed in 2012 and then revised earlier this year in conjunction with the reorganization of the RPD. Officers are trained, for example, to speak to trans people in a way that is consistent with the gender they present, and to use their chosen names, which may differ from their legal names.
And transgender individuals who have been arrested and are transported or confined need to be separated from other prisoners.
Haag, who is also a member of City Council's committee on public safety, youth and recreation, says that trans-inclusive protocols are more than just progressive thinking; they represent good policing.
And special protocols for police interaction with certain groups of people are not unusual. Police also have protocols for working with Rochester's deaf and refugee communities, since both may experience communication issues.
"You could look at this as the heart of community policing," Haag says. "This is a tool to help police work more effectively with members of our community."
Haag says that when police are called to a home or business, the situation is usually tense and stressful. Having protocols for engaging people respectfully can help defuse the problem, he says.
"Why make that already tense environment worse and escalate?" he says. "The police don't want things to spin out of control. They don't want to put themselves or someone else in danger."
The trans protocols help provide safety for a vulnerable segment of the community, says Scott Fearing, executive director of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley. Transgender individuals in the US, particularly trans women, he says, are frequently the victims of verbal attacks and physical assaults.
Fearing says that there is a lot of fear in the transgender community. They are often afraid of going to the police for help and afraid of being out in many public places because they don't feel safe.
Fearing and Haag also met recently with members of the district attorney's office to better inform the justice system about the transgender community.
Haag says that Mayor Lovely Warren and the RPD are receptive to the needs of Rochester's LGBT community, including the need for trans-inclusive protocols.
"I give Mayor Warren a lot of credit," Haag says. "From the moment she came into office she has wanted to make Rochester a more LGBT-inclusive city."