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Police are four times more likely to stop transgender people for “reasonable suspicion”

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A new draft report from the California Attorney General’s office indicates transgender people in the state are stopped by police at vastly different rates than cisgender men and women.

The report is based on data reported from 58 of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies and shows transgender people were stopped because of “reasonable suspicion” alone —instead of a specific violation or clearly unlawful behavior — in nearly half the stops.

For transgender people, the proportion of “reasonable suspicion” stops was 44%, or four times the ratio for cisgender people.

The data includes all people stopped by police, regardless of whether the officers were responding to a potential offense they observed or to a call for service.

California requires police departments to report the demographic data of every driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian they stop, including perceived race, gender, and approximate age.

The new state data shows that transgender women are stopped due to an officer’s “reasonable suspicion” in more than 45% of encounters when they were stopped in 2021. Trans men were stopped for the same reason 43% of the time.

Interactions with police officers were also more likely to lead to more drastic outcomes – with transgender people more likely to be searched, handcuffed, and arrested – and to have lethal and non-lethal force used against them.

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that requires officers to articulate why they believe a person is likely engaged in a crime. Probable cause, the standard required to arrest someone, has a higher bar.

Under the 2015 Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA, law enforcement agencies with 334 or more officers were required to report data to the state for 2021. The reporting requirement expands to all police agencies for data collected this year.

Alex Binsfeld, legal director at the Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project, an advocacy group in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that gender biases result in officers focusing on transgender people because they don’t fit their notions of how a woman or man ought to look.

“It’s in effect a way to enforce Western gender binary norms on appearance, that you will be punished if you are not gender binary in your appearance,” they said. “Policing of trans folks at these disparate rates has led advocates to argue it’s a status crime.”

Cisgender people, who made up the overwhelming majority of the total number of stops statewide, were stopped for traffic violations the majority of the time. Cisgender women were stopped because of an officer’s “reasonable suspicion” in less than nine percent of encounters; cisgender men were stopped because of an officer’s suspicion in 11% of encounters.

Out of 3.2 million total stops, transgender people accounted for 4,740.

Transgender advocates scored a major victory in July when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed S.B. 357, a bill repealing a notorious “walking while trans” law. Effective January 1, the bill repeals a 1995 law that prohibits loitering in public places with the “intent to commit prostitution.” The voided statute allows police to cite people they find suspicious due to factors like how they dress or where they stand on the street.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who sponsored S.B. 357, said the sweeping loitering law causes innocent people to get swept up in the criminal justice system and makes sex workers less safe because they fear seeking out law enforcement.

“Even one arrest can have such profound implications for someone’s life,” Wiener said. “It’s one step; there’s certainly more work to do.”

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