Military and Police

Police Be Damned – Enforcing Laws in a Politically Correct Society

“Whenever possible, a [transgender] suspect or arrestee shall be transported alone. Officers shall ensure that additional units are called in order to assist with transporting additional [transgender] individuals.”

“Mike the Cop” is somewhat of a social media celebrity who covers police culture and cop/citizen interactions with a layer of parody.  Recently, he analyzed how citizens are increasingly demanding cops to be, well, clairvoyant and preternaturally trained to immediately pick up on how folks nowadays wish to be identified. For example, Mike the Cop’s recent video posted on Facebook explains in practical terms how he thinks cops feel about the transgender community and why mutual understanding is logical for all involved parties.

“It’s Pat” 

Mike the Cop references a video he posted to YouTube in which he tries to make his point by deferring to an early-1990s Saturday Night Live (SNL) character/skit called “It’s Pat” played by then-cast member Julia Sweeney. The premise behind the “It’s Pat” parody is that Pat’s gender is ambiguous. More specifically, it is androgynous — of indeterminate sex. Even the name “Pat,” which can be shorthand for Patrick or Patricia, demonstrates the 50/50 discernment of gender identity.

Gender identity is what Mike the Cop harps on in his YouTube video for which the YouTube police suspended him, accusing him of “Hate Speech.”

Let’s Go to the Tape!

In his Facebook video, Mike the Cop makes some salient points. He covers the January 28, 2017 police/citizen encounter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where a cop pulled over a motorist and checked the gender box as M for male when the driver’s license had an F for female. The driver, a 48-year-old male-to-female transgender named Shelby Kendall, had her Florida driver license gender specification changed (per request and supplemented by a doctor’s affidavit) to reflect that he was a she (almost). The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) honored the 2014 request from Kendall to change her gender from male (M) to female (F).

Fort Lauderdale police Officer James Brinton caught Kendall drag-racing (reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense in Florida) and pursued her. Once stopped, the investigation lead to processing the criminal traffic tickets via the police cruiser’s in-car computer. Officer Brinton noticed the auto-generated tickets had “Female” checked off, so he adjusted the ticket to reflect “Male” since he believed Kendall’s gender to be such. Appearance is one theory.

Kendall allegedly clarified for Officer Brinton that she identifies as a female, to no avail. Officer Brinton reportedly retorted, “Well, for the purposes of this citation, you are a male.”

Kendall filed a complaint with FLPD Internal Affairs detectives and declared she was purposely mis-gendered and felt bullied by Officer Brinton.

“Times must’ve changed,” says Mike the Cop. They surely have. Mike the Cop goes on to say in 2017, it seems there are many “lose-lose situations” and that, ultimately, cops are going to offend someone … perhaps unwittingly. Sensitivities are stratospheric nowadays, and cops on the frontlines get to experience that daily. The proverbial damned if you do, damned if you don’t has chronic applications in police work. Kendall’s story is one such example.

“Creating a situation in which you paint yourself as a victim is not helping,” says Mike the Cop. Officer Brinton — or any cop in similar context — is doing his/her job according to training principles and, conceivably, may make a mistake in the process. He goes on to discuss amicable encounters between police/citizens:

“How are people [cops] supposed to deal with the endless varieties and possibilities of individuals’ choices that the rest of society, outside of you who make the individual choices and decisions about who you identify as or what you identify as … how are the rest of us supposed to be able to assume that and appropriate that in a way that’s not offensive? Isn’t that a little bit of an unrealistic expectation?”

Officer Brinton thought he was merely correcting an error made by the state agent who completed Kendall’s driver license.

Whether it is the answer or not, several law enforcement agencies have begun crafting and implementing policies relating to their cops addressing the transgender community.

The Minneapolis police policy pertaining to addressing transgender citizens states that, “A person who transitions from female to male, meaning a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and lives as a male…should be addressed using masculine pronouns (e.g. he, him, his), regardless of surgical status.” Conversely, a “Male-to-female individual should be addressed using feminine pronouns (e.g. she, her, hers), regardless of surgical status.”

MPD cops are instructed as follows: “If an employee is uncertain about which pronouns are appropriate, the employee should respectfully ask the individual.”

The Seattle Police Department has a policy titled Interaction with Transgender Individuals. The New York Police Department made transgender policies reflected in over 12 separate Patrol Guide sections. The LAPD announced its transgender interactions initiatives in 2012. And the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police drafted Policy for Interactions with Transgender People. These are a mere few law enforcement agencies denoting police are not insensitive to their community’s demographics and respective needs.

Government-issued Documents  

Throughout my police career, I met many people from all walks of life. We can all agree that police officers enforce laws and address statute violations. That implies that we are mostly contacting folks deemed to be in a bit of hot water. Police officials encounter a vast array of citizens. Many police/citizen contacts are experienced during traffic stops in which a cop obtains an individuals driver’s license. Upon that state-issued driver’s license is the named individual’s gender. And that is the basis for police to record the violator’s gender upon traffic tickets.

When one comes before any state’s driver office where prospective drivers fill out forms and take examinations to prove driver effectiveness, that petitioner fills in information and checks off boxes. One box denotes gender; so, the impetus of what a cop goes by is directly attributable to what the once-applicant recorded himself or herself.

If thereafter, a driver arrives at a life-altering decision whereby sex identification is changed, it is naturally incumbent upon that individual to solicit a legal amendment to his or her driver application materials and invert their gender identity officially.

In an industry and profession having everything to do with documentation (paperwork) and transparency (who, what, when, where and why), legal affidavits having to do with proof of identity alleviates any perceived discrimination and/or would-be conflict over politically-correct impasses.

Ultimately, cops know the forms (tickets) they are generating are legal, official documents and as such are to abide by what is recorded by government authorities (such as state driver license division agents). In Officer Brinton’s case, he opted to correct (record) something he reasonably thought was an error … and he was thrown under the bus for that decision.

Policy Implications

Despite what may or may not reflect a driver’s preferred gender identity, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) revamped its “transgender and gender non-conforming” policy in September 2016 whereby all its cops were instructed to address folks the way they preferred. According to the MPD policy, transgender citizens will have the right to request a particular gender officer to conduct any body search beyond a general frisk or pat-down. The suspect search “shall be conducted by an officer of the gender requested by the suspect.” According to MPD policy, a person identifying as a female has the right to request a search by a female officer and vice versa.

From a MPD cop’s point-of-view, if a probable cause arrest is made leading to a search of a suspect, justice is slowed by waiting for the suspect’s request to be honored. Generally, my department stipulates that a female officer search female suspects and male cops search male suspects, when practicable. When a same-gender on-duty cop is unavailable, training in techniques for cursory pat-downs are permissible, despite the gender sensitivities. Officer safety is always paramount, and an undiscovered firearm can be horrific news down the road or at the jail facility.

To the transgender community, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said, “We see you, we hear you, you are us and we are you.” And as far as police resources go, MPD policy dictates, “Whenever possible, a [transgender] suspect or arrestee shall be transported alone. Officers shall ensure that additional units are called in order to assist with transporting additional [transgender] individuals.” It’s no secret how police resources are often lacking, thanks to fiscal constraints, and this policy is likely an undue burden on the Minneapolis Police Department.

Disciplinary Actions

Kendall’s complaint involving Fort Lauderdale police Officer Brinton’s actions went before the Fort Lauderdale police administration and the city’s Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB). In totality, it was decided Officer Brinton deserved disciplinary blemishes in his personnel jacket in the form of a written reprimand.

Mike the Cop goes off on the FLPD and the CPRB for mandating that the police force receive training in transgender identification. As he suggests: Is marking “Unknown” the answer or will that simply garner more drivers’ complaints?

Are we ridiculously pushing policing over the edge of reasonability and expecting perfection in the process? Should cops just go with common sense and what the eyes see before them, like what is on the officially-issued driver license?

As Mike the Cop proclaimed, “…don’t expect that I have to indulge every decision you make, especially indulging in a way that I am supposed to predict and know, somehow, that you have made this decision in your life.”

Frankly, I go by what the “legal documents,” in this case a driver license, indicate for the information needed for a ticket completion. As a policeman I always sided with the official nature tangibly in my hand, listed on the driver license, despite what is before my eyes and ears.

As Father Mark Hodges wrote and opined about the encounter between Kendall and Officer Brinton: “What kind of society would state an unreality simply because an intrinsically disordered person requests it? A society that is intrinsically disordered itself.”

What are your sentiments regarding this issue?

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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