I was thinking about these so-called bathroom bills the other day. Legislation like this is an area of “morality” policing that normally involves the use of a very important officer skill: Discretion. Discretion is a great tool for cops to use in a variety of situations because it allows humanity to enter into the law enforcement equation. We can think of countless examples of discretion that used compassion and mercy as a teaching moment. This approach likely did more to change behavior and boost the credibility of policing than taking a hard line for a minor charge.
However, discretionary applications aren’t always for the good. Because we’re human, we have to acknowledge the ways that culture wars and matters of faith or our upbringing are often at the center of our own biases. Our belief systems are the very things that color the way we all interact with the world and policing is no different. The only way to work toward the goal of truly unbiased law enforcement is to talk about and acknowledge how we can best balance our internal beliefs with the laws that officers are called to enforce. This is especially true when cops must deal with cultures or beliefs very different from their own.
Here’s an example. In our town, like most, there are unwritten rules that dictate where certain couples go to hook up. Old fashioned “lover’s lanes” or whatever you call them now. In our town, one side of the Causeway was largely straight folks; the other side was known for mostly gay couples. It was routine for officers to patrol those beach areas, coming across countless couples in sexually compromising situations. More commonly, the enforcement was vastly different, depending upon which side the couple was on, meaning the enforcement was decidedly more aggressive. Ticketing or criminal charges much more the norm on the gay side of the causeway.
So, when I hear about communities writing ordinances to criminalize transgender people for using the restroom according to their identity, it makes me a bit nervous. Because an ordinance with criminal penalty means you want cops enforcing that law. Based upon my experience, LGBTQ people are already on the losing end of many interactions where education and discretion is sorely needed.
I often hear that it’s not about hate or discrimination, only about protecting our wives and daughters. Protecting our family is completely understandable, but the man in the bathroom dressed like a woman, attacking women? Let’s please say what that really is. It’s a male predator donning a disguise to perpetrate his crime, no different than an armed robber in a mask. A sexual predator is not the same as a transgender person. You’ll have to search really hard to find an actual transgender person who has committed such heinous acts (I have never seen one in 25 years of law enforcement). What I have seen are hundreds and hundreds of males preying on women and children. That is where our outrage and policing efforts should be directed.
These criminals must be dealt with swiftly and I have no qualms about actual predators feeling the full weight of punishment. We have to address the real problems regarding sex crimes in our society. The very real misogynistic, gender double-standards and pervasive violence against women that still exist. Sad statistics don’t lie: 82% of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers, 4 out of 5 rapes are committed by a known offender, 47% of rapists are friends or acquaintances. Law enforcement must deal in facts, not hysteria and ignorance. Scapegoating those on the margins is not the answer.