The Philadelphia Police Department has updated its policy on how officers should treat transgender and nonbinary people, making its policy among “the most progressive" in the nation, city officials announced Tuesday.

The changes — which were presented to officers earlier this year — were announced at a City Hall news conference during a month in which the department has been under heavy criticism after hundreds of cops were accused of posting offensive or intolerant material on Facebook. The scandal has led to 72 cops being benched, and protesters have called the department a safe haven for bigotry.

That subtext was not mentioned during the news conference. Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender woman who chairs the Police Department’s LGBT liaison committee, said that LGBTQ people had previously suffered “horrible” treatment from city cops, but called the policy changes “monumental,” and praised the city and department for working with community members to draft them.

The updates include using new and less offensive terminology to refer to transgender and nonbinary people, requiring police to use a person’s preferred name on paperwork if it differs from their legal name, and allowing transgender or nonbinary people to choose whether they are searched by a male or female officer, said Amber Hikes, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.

The policy also says that transgender or nonbinary individuals taken into custody should be transported and housed separately from other inmates when possible.

Amber Hikes, executive director of the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs, pauses during a news conference at Philadelphia City Hall on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Amber Hikes, executive director of the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs, pauses during a news conference at Philadelphia City Hall on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

Gillian Branstetter, spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality, in Washington, said in an email Tuesday that the policy “takes some important steps forward” but that “Philadelphia, like most cities, still has much to do to reduce the role of police in people’s daily lives and heal the mistrust between law enforcement and minority communities, including the transgender community.”

Last year, the department was criticized after a transgender woman arrested for allegedly attempting to burn a flag in a crowd was referred to by her male name and taken to a men’s prison. Hikes was among those who bailed the woman out of jail.

Calling the policy changes “historic,” Hikes said their foundation had been laid by Dante Austin, a deputy sheriff and leader in Philadelphia’s gay community, who took his own life earlier this month. Austin had helped to develop a similar policy for the Sheriff’s Office in 2017, Hikes said.

Officer Jo Mason, the city’s only cop who openly does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions, said updating the policy was a major step in showing the department’s evolution on the issue.

The old policy, Mason said, “was good, but it wasn’t good enough.”