Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff recently helped local police and correctional officers gain greater insight into issues facing the transgender community. Woodruff was one of the main presenters at police training sessions sponsored and moderated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Other presenters at the sessions included members of the transgender community from Champaign, Peoria and Chicago.

“The training sessions gave officers and staff members a greater understanding of the transgender community and issues surrounding gender identity and expression,” said Woodruff. “Greater awareness of those issues helps to build trust and foster better communication between police officers and members of the transgender community.”

All University Police officers and dispatchers took part in the training, along with police officers from Bloomington and Normal, McLean County Sheriff’s deputies and McLean County Jail correctional officers.

In addition to general cultural competency, the training sessions addressed specific situations involving interactions with law enforcement, such as victim interviews, searches and even jail placements.

“Knowing how to respectfully address a person shows a sense of understanding,” said Woodruff. “Officers can ask individuals if they have a preferred name or pronoun. That helps to build trust. Many officers have not been faced with these situations, so talking about what may be considered offensive to a transgender individual was a big part of the training.”

The Department of Justice began offering the training to counter a nationwide trend in underreported hate crimes against transgender individuals. On the local level, Woodruff said that he has received very positive feedback on the training from law enforcement agencies and members of the transgender community.

“As a university police department, we are in a unique position to help educate others about cultural diversity and cultural competency,” Woodruff said. “Fostering an understanding of all members of the community has always been important. That is even more important today, given the heightened sensitivity surrounding police and community relations.”