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Panel advances police profiling ban based on gender identity

Chicago’s 14-year-old ban on racial profiling by police would be expanded to include “gender identity” and “national origin,” under a crackdown advanced Thursday that, the city’s first openly gay alderman proclaimed, shows how far the Chicago Police Department has come.

Police protests triggered by the acquittal of police officers accused of killing unarmed civilians in New York City and Ferguson, Mo., recently prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to expand the federal government’s ban on racial profiling by police to include religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The federal guidelines apply only to federal law enforcement officers.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Finance Committee agreed to make Chicago the first major city to adopt those same standards for its local police officers by adding two missing categories: national origin and gender identity.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) used the occasion to reflect on how much more sensitive Chicago Police have become in their dealings with the politically potent gay community.

Tunney never mentioned the raids on gay bars that used to be an all too common police practice in Chicago. But he was clearly referring to those ugly days when he talked about the progress.

“I wanted to compliment the Police Department on how far they’ve come in terms of recognizing the LGBT community [through] sensitivity training for officers. The specific addition [of] gender identity has really become a focal point for our country in terms of transgender. . . . It’s really a reflection of where society is,” Tunney said.

“I know there’s a lot of work being done on how to educate the Police Department on gender identity. . . . Respect for a person’s identity — whether he or she is on the surface different than maybe what an [official] identification has. And getting an ID has been a problem. And [teaching officers to] respect whatever they believe is their identity and especially about housing of people under arrest — protecting them when they’re in police custody.”

But Tunney said, “There’s still more work to do. . . . It’s one of the reasons I’m a co-sponsor.”

Deputy chief of patrol Eddie Johnson thanked Tunney for the compliment, but acknowledged that police sensitivity is a work in progress.

“The department has taken the position to treat all individuals in a manner that’s appropriate. Training for that is ongoing and extensive. All officers will be trained on it,” Johnson said.

As for gender identity specifically, Johnson said, “Officers are trained that if there is some confusion, they’ll ask the person directly: `What do you want to be addressed as.’ And if there is further confusion, then a supervisor is called in.”

After the meeting, Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th), a former Chicago Police officer, was asked whether he believes there is any police profiling of gay and transgender people still going on in Chicago.

“I don’t know that that is a policy that is widespread. But in law enforcement, it’s not only good to remind officers about what is expected of them, but it also shows to the broad categories of Chicago citizens that, as a public policy, we are on record as condemning the use of those categories for police stops,” Burke said.

Fourteen years ago, Chicago became the nation’s first major city to approve a ban on racial profiling by police agencies public and private.

Civil libertarians argued that the proposed changes did not go far enough. They argued that more insidious forms of profiling would be hard to detect unless police fill out a record every time they stop a citizen.

Under questioning at Thursday’s meeting, Johnson said police have “a lot of discretion” on when and when not to fill out those so-called “contact cards.” They’re normally filed, only after stops that are “suspicious or criminal in nature,” he said.