West Hartford police adopt guidelines for interacting with LGBT community

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WEST HARTFORD -- A new policy shows that the West Hartford Police Department is taking a progressive approach when dealing with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“We wanted to make sure that questions that officers had and that came up were met with good answers and guidance,” said Lt. Eric Rocheleau of the Community Relations Division.

The new four-page policy shows officers how to address members of the LGBT community in interviews, terms to use in reports and guidelines if taking someone into custody. It specifically outlines the proper vocabulary for addressing transgender individuals.

Lt. Rocheleau explained, “You’ll have somebody who is clearly a man dressed in women’s clothing, some of the officers have questions as to how that person is transported, patted down or put in cells.”

West Hartford Police looked over policies in Atlanta and Boston, and also consulted with their corporate counsel before writing it. It is one of the first if not the first policy of its kind in Connecticut.

The policy was introduced on July 29 in an e-mail to all officers, and immediately put into effect . Officers say it wasn’t in response to any negative interaction or incident.

According to the policy, people should be referred to by the name and gender they identify with, regardless of what is on their government ID. The policy states, “If officers are uncertain, they should ask respectfully how the person prefers to be addressed.”

The policy also states trangender prisoners should not be placed in cells with other prisoners, unless there are no other options. Lt. Rocheleau said the department has four or five different types of cells, some specific to gender, in which prisoners can be placed.

You can read the full policy here.

Linda Estabrook, executive director of the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, supports the policy and says it’s a way for officers to better understand and respect the community.

“If they haven’t had exposure in their lives or minimal exposure or negative exposure, this is a way to bring some positivity to that and some understanding,” said Estabrook. “It helps them to be respectful. Instead of fumbling around with words and pronouns and all of that.”

Some critics say the policy is repetitive because the West Hartford Police Department’s mission statement already includes treating every individual with respect.”

“While it’s debatable, I think it’s still a good thing to have the policy in place,” said Lt. Rocheleau.

Estabrook said, “The bottom line is yes, treat everybody with respect, but there are certain nuances with the LGBT community to just have a better understanding of and it really is as simple as that. It’s not about special treatment. It’s not about different treatment. It’s just understanding who you’re working with.”

The state has had civil rights protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1991 and included protections on gender expression and identity since 2013.