Community Q&A

Frequently Asked Questions by the Transgender Community to Police

In the State of California it is not illegal to be dressed as any gender regardless of your birth gender.

You should be honest about your true legal name, address, date of birth, and drivers license status. You should give your legal name and identification information to the officer. If you are in transition from one gender to the other and your legal name has been changed, give your legal name. If you have not completed this process, provide your legal name and information. If you are asked for your birth name, you are not required to give it, but know that there may be an issue with the officer, who may feel that you are hiding something for criminal reasons. This could cause prolonged detention, while the officer investigates.

You should tell the officer that you are transgender. A further explanation may help the officer to understand that you are a cross-dresser or are transsexual, and in gender transition, or have changed genders, but your ID does not reflect that at this time.

Police officers are curious by nature and suspicious when anyone lies to them. If you lie, or it appears to the officer that you have lied, understand that you now, may have given the officer grounds to arrest you, especially if you are driving a car. It is a law that providing a peace officer with a false name and identification information is a criminal offense. It may be a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon the circumstances. You could go to jail as a consequence. You will have also made a permanent marker on your new ID or license listing the other names that you have used, to include your birth name. This does not appear if there is no criminal history associated with your ID or drivers license.

In the state of California it is unlawful to have two valid identifications for the same person if they are under different names. If you have obtained a new license or ID in your target gender, you are required to turn in your old ID or license with your birth name. You will have also made a permanent marker on your new ID or license listing the other names that you have used, to include your birth name. This does not appear if there is no criminal history associated with your ID or drivers license.

It is a crime and you can be arrested if you possess governmental identifications that are fraudulent. You may or may not be arrested and booked into jail. You have just added additional AKA’s to your California DMV history and anytime a perspective employer or a peace officer run your name, your birth name is not available and additional questions will be asked and could cause you embarrassment and legal difficulties for years.

The arrest procedure in most counties is VERY straight forward and generally unfair to transgender individuals. If you are arrested; regardless of dress and gender appearance, you will be booked into the jail under your legal name, if it is known. You will have the names you told the officer listed in your criminal history and maybe your DMV history, depending. You will be taken to the male or female booking section according to your anatomy (unless you are in San Francisco, CA.). The other inmates will see you come in as you are dressed and that may present a health or safety risk for you. You will be subject to a strip search of your person and all of your possessions, clothing, and personal items will be taken from you. You may be placed into protective custody for your stay in jail because they will associate you with other members of the LGBT Community and segregate you from the main jail population. If they do not segregate you, and you feel that you need protective custody because you are in contact with people that are going to harm you, you need to tell the jail Classification officer.

There are a number of things that you can do in dealing with the officer. The officer may not know that they are offending you, so tell them politely that they are offending you and what how they are offending you. This may help the officer to understand what mistakes they are making and allow them to correct the offensive behavior. If the officer does not get the hint a more direct approach may be necessary. Try to remember the words that the officer used so that you can recount them later. Ask the officer for their name, badge number and the name of their agency. Do this politely and without attitude. Call for a Field Supervisor, which is usually a Sergeant and explain your complaint to the supervisor. They may not do anything while you are there but they will address it with the officer later in private either informally or
formally depending upon your wishes. If the complaint is important to you, you should contact the department, or the Internal Affairs Unit and make your complaint about the officers rude, abusive and or criminal conduct. Understand that any complaint that you make against the officer, will not make any criminal charges go away, unless they are false. Many agencies have some oversight of their Internal Affairs Unit. This may be a Police Commission or an Independent Police Audit or called something else but if you feel that you can not go to IA then this is an alternative. Generally speaking, from my experience most police agencies with a specific Internal Affairs Unit or investigator, are quite interested in misconduct by their officers and they DO investigate and make recommendations to the Chief of Police, Sheriff, or Agency Administrator regarding whether the illegal or inappropriate activity by their employee was against departmental policies or against the law and the officer is held accountable. This process is not a public one generally. The employee has rights and the employer is required to protect many of these rights for the employee, until due process has been completed through a civil service hearing, and or criminal court proceeding.

The answer is yes and no; depending on the circumstances. If you committed a crime or the officer believes that you have committed a crime, they have the right to conduct a search of your person for evidence. This search may extend to your vehicle, if you are driving one at the time of the contact with the officer. Understand that if you are on probation or parole and subject to search and seizure; that an officer may have cause to conduct such a search of your person, vehicle and or residence. The conditions of probation or parole which restrict you will determine the depth to which the officer may invade your privacy. If the officer asks you for permission to search your person or vehicle you are not required to allow it and may stated that you prefer not to give your permission; respectfully. Even if the officer has legal cause to search, they may ask your permission first and if you decline they can and generally will search anyways, but they will have to justify this, usually in a police report. If there is no crime and the officer searches against your will, then you should consult an attorney and you may also make a complaint to the agency.

Protect yourself and your friends by seeking safety first and calling the police or local sheriff where the incident took place. Seek medical treatment by calling 911 or going to a hospital for treatment of severe wounds. Try to remain at the scene to help the officers identify the crime scene, collect physical evidence, and identify witnesses if possible. If you can not stay at the scene because it is unsafe, try to remember where it happened, so that the officer can go there and investigate further. Report the crime to the police or sheriff where it happened. Jurisdiction is important. The officers are required to take a crime report and to investigate the crime or incident. If they are not going to take a police report, demand that a report is taken. Ask for the case number and the officers name and badge number. They are required to provide you with this information.

Recommendations for the transgender community when contacted by the police

  1.  Be polite. Politeness goes a long way in setting the tone of the encounter and the officer will be more likely to return the politeness throughout the encounter. In the same regard, attitude, sets the
    tone; your’s as well as the officer’s.
  2.  Try not to be confrontational with the officer. This could lead to the officer becoming more suspicious and digging into the situation, which may expose you to arrest, if you have committed a crime.
  3. Officers have discretion regarding arrest and do NOT have to arrest a person, even if they have committed a crime, but given the choice when there is confrontation, arrest may occur. No not give them extra ammunition against you. Your attitude may influence their actions and could save you from legal difficulties.
  4. Be honest and forthright about your identity and gender, with the officer. The officer will understand that you may have other “issues” which explain multiple names, genders, identifications and personal history.
  5. Do not commit a crime. Do not be associated with someone in the commission of a crime. Make sure that you do not have any arrest or bench warrants for your arrest. These may subject you to a stay on the local jail.
  6. Do not give false information to a peace officer.
  7. Do not have more than one identification in different names, date of births, and genders.
  8. Change your name and gender markers through legal process and stay with that name and identity. Be consistent.
  9. If you are in transition having all of your papers available to you with name change with DMV, the courts, Social Security etc….. it may be prudent to assist in clarifying any perceived miscommunication by law enforcement. (COPIES are perfectly acceptable for this situation.
  10. If you encounter problems with the officer being rude after you explain the circumstances to him or her, then you should contact their superior and explain your grievance and ask for corrective measures.
  11. If you are not satisfied with the supervisor’s remedy, contact Internal Affairs and make a personal complaint against the officer for their rudeness, violations of policy or procedure, or criminal
    activity.
  12. If you can not go to Internal Affairs, then seek out the next level of complaint, through the governing body, such as a police commission, independent police auditor or human rights commission.
  13. If your complaint is a crime against you or another person by a peace officer, you can also go to the State Attorney General’s Office, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if it is a corruption issue or your civil rights were violated.
  14. If you are a victim of a Hate Crime or a Bias Related incident, report it to the local authorities. It is a crime for a peace officer NOT to take a crime report, in the State of California.
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