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Boston police issue transgender search guidelines

The Boston Police Department has issued antidiscrimination guidelines for police interactions with transgender individuals that offer them new protections during searches and bookings.

The new policies were announced Tuesday, several months after the city settled a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman against officers who arrested her for refusing to leave a women’s bathroom at a Boston homeless shelter. Brenda Wernikoff contended that several male officers forced her to remove her shirt and expose her breasts. Throughout the incident, police referred to her as a man, she said.

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Under the new policies, reached after lengthy negotiations between police and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, police must address transgender individuals by their adopted name and must use appropriate pronouns.

Transgender individuals cannot be subjected to additional invasive search or frisk procedures, the policy states. Prisoners can request the gender of the officers conducting the search.

Under the new policy, transgender prisoners are to be transported alone and held in a cell without other prisoners, whenever possible.

Jesse Begenyi, interim director of the transgender coalition, said the new policies were a long-awaited milestone.

“We’re really excited to see the [Boston police] step up and release guidelines around this,” Begenyi said. “We will now have a baseline of how police officers should interact with the transgender community. Collaborations like this are what is going to change the culture.”

Begenyi said the policies, which were under discussion well before the Wernikoff lawsuit, should help reduce discrimination against transgender people who come into contact with police officers.

“Situations like the one with Brenda do happen too often to our community,” Begenyi said. “Hopefully, policies like this will prevent these incidents from happening as frequently.”

Wernikoff said the policies represent a “step in the right direction” that should be applauded. Yet the city already had an ordinance saying people have the right to use restrooms based on their gender identity, she pointed out.

“It shouldn’t have happened in the beginning and shouldn’t happen any more,” she said.

Begenyi said the policies are based on antidiscrimination guidelines in Washington, D.C. The coalition hopes to work with State Police to adopt similar policies.

Javier Pagan, the Boston Police Department’s liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, said the policies make it clear that transgender people are to be treated with dignity and respect, and will afford them a new level of protection.

“Now we have something concrete that officers have to follow,” Pagan said. “It’s something the department takes seriously.”

The policies will become part of officer training, he said.

Howard Friedman, a civil rights lawyer who represented Wernikoff, praised the new policy but said it had to be put into practice.

“They are doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s a good policy, but it has to be enforced.”

Friedman said police departments in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, among others, had instituted transgender policies, most in the past two years. “The culture is starting to change,” Begenyi said. “It’s something we’re starting to see more of.”

The city of Boston agreed to pay Wernikoff $20,000 in exchange for her dropping her suit against the officers, which was filed last fall.

A spokeswoman for the Boston police said an internal investigation into the Wernikoff arrest remains open.

Kenneth Anderson, a lawyer who represents the officers involved in the investigation, commended the department for adopting the new policies and said the officers “at all times acted appropriately and consistent with their training.”

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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