March 3, 2015 at 6:31 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Obama report seeks LGBT-inclusive law enforcement policies
Ebola, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama unveiled a report to make police forces adopt pro-LGBT policies. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amid questions that emerged about racial bias in America’s police forces following events in Ferguson and New York, the White House has issued a report seeking changes for policies guiding law enforcement, including an end to profiling and discrimination against LGBT people.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, established in December, made public on Monday its 101-page interim report. Among the major suggested changes are building trust and legitimacy by treating others with respect and improved oversight through data collection, supervision and accountability.

One chief recommendation is the creation of a National Crime & Justice Task Force to review comprehensive criminal justice reform in addition to enforcement of federal immigration laws and regulation of consent searches.

In remarks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Obama said the report is based on “pragmatic, common-sense ideas” from criminal justice experts, community leaders, law enforcement and civil liberties advocates.

“A lot of our work is going to involve local police chiefs, local elected officials, states recognizing that the moment is now for us to make these changes,” Obama said. “We have a great opportunity, coming out of some great conflict and tragedy, to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel, rather than being embattled, feel fully supported.”

The report was produced following a 90-day period in which the Task Force — chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson — undertook listening sessions in various cities to obtain input on the relationship between police forces and their communities.

In terms of LGBT issues, the report recommends that law enforcement agencies adopt policies prohibiting profiling and discrimination on the basis of various characteristics, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

“Invasive searches should never be used for the sole purpose of determining gender identity, and an individual’s gender identity should be respected in lock-ups and holding cells to the extent that the facility allows for gender segregation,” the report says.

One proposed action is for the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control to add on federal surveys questions about sexual harassment and misconduct toward LGBT people by law enforcement officers.

“All human beings have biases or prejudices as a result of their experiences, and these biases influence how they might react when dealing with unfamiliar people or situations,” the report says. “An explicit bias is a conscious bias about certain populations based upon race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or other attributes. Common sense shows that explicit bias is incredibly damaging to police-community relations, and there is a growing body of research evidence that shows that implicit bias—the biases people are not even aware they have—is harmful as well.”

Another recommendation in the report is the end to using possession of condoms as sole evidence of intent to engage in prostitution, a change transgender and HIV/AIDS advocates have sought.

In a joint statement, LGBT groups called on law enforcement agencies and Congress to implement the recommendations in the report and for continued work on the issue with LGBT advocacy organizations.

“Without clear policies ensuring respect for gender identity and the rights of LGBTQ people during police interactions and arrest processing, the people we serve experience danger and frequent violations of their constitutional rights while in police custody,” the statement says. “Additionally, all too often members of our community are also denied HIV medicines and other critical medications while in custody. We look forward to working with the DOJ to establish model policies for local law enforcement to ensure that LGBT people and people living with HIV are treated with dignity and receive medically necessary treatment in police custody.”

The joint statement was issued by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, the National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the New York-based group Streetwise & Safe.

The Obama administration has already taken steps at the federal level. In December, outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new policy to ban federal law enforcement officials from profiling people based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and other factors.

Also on Monday, the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles issued its own report finding “ongoing and pervasive discrimination” against the LGBT community by law enforcement officials. Some of the key findings:

• More than one-fifth (21 percent) of LGBT people who interacted with police reported encountering hostile attitudes from officers and 14 percent reported verbal assault by the police.

• Nearly half (48 percent) of the LGBT violence survivors who interacted with police reported that they had experienced police misconduct, including unjustified arrest, use of excessive force and entrapment.

• Two-thirds of Latina transgender women in Los Angeles County who interacted with police reported that they were verbally harassed by law enforcement, 21 percent report that they were physically assaulted by law enforcement, and 24 percent report that they were sexually assaulted by law enforcement.

• Nearly half (46 percent) of transgender respondents in a national survey reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance, 22 percent reported that they had been harassed by law enforcement because of bias, and 6 percent reported having been physically assaulted by an officer.

For his part, Obama said he wants the media to heavily scrutinize the Task Force report so that it may become an agent of change in law enforcement practices.

“So often we see an event that’s flashy; it makes the news; people are crying out for solutions,” Obama said. “And by the time recommendations are put forward, our focus has moved on and we don’t actually see and pay attention to the concrete ways that we can improve the situation. This is a moment where a lot of work has been done. There’s some good answers to be had if we don’t make this a political football or sensationalize it, but rather really focus on getting the job done.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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