San Luis Obispo Police are already undergoing training in sexual orientation and gender identity, which became a new state mandate on Jan. 1 for law enforcement.
“A lot of people just don’t feel comfortable with law enforcement these days and there’s been a lack of trust,” said SLOPD Lt. John Bledsoe.
Bledsoe believes the issue of trust stems from miscommunication and a lack of understanding, a problem he said can be improved with education.
In addition to courses on racial and cultural differences already required of California law enforcement, a new 2019 law – AB 2504 – now requires police to study up on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Along with the correct vocabulary, the law requires law enforcement departments to also create an inclusive work environment for LGBTQ officers and consult with a team that involves one man, one woman and one trans individual.
The purpose of the new law, according to the bill’s author, is to help law enforcement better understand the minorities in their communities.
“(We study) the terminology that are involved and how to identify people, how they want to be identified, communication styles,” Bledsoe said.
One assemblyman, who voted for the measure, noted during the bill’s reading in May that police funding has dropped significantly, which makes it more difficult for local jurisdictions to afford specialized training.
Assemblyman Jim Cooper argued that law enforcement departments across the state are struggling to fund various training programs, including use of force and de-escalation, because of decreased budgets.
“It’s outrageous how we keep cutting them dramatically but expect them to do more. You wonder why training isn’t happening. It’s because of this,” Assemblyman Jim Cooper argued.
SLOPD got a head start on training last year around the same time it launched the Police and Community Together group, which includes local LGBTQ rights organizations.
“As a former police officer, I think because of the era we live in right now, we need to make sure our officers have as much training as possible to address their communities,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson.
Bledsoe said the LGBTQ training helped keep the peace during SLO’s 2018 Pride Festival.
“There was a group that was really anti-law enforcement and they wanted to rebel against law enforcement,” Bledsoe said. “One of the other LGBTQ groups got them to understand we were actually on their side and all working together.”
SLO Queerdos, which works to unite the Central Coast LGBTQ community, offered a statement praising the new law.
“As an organization who focuses on bringing the SLO community closer together, we think any kind of training that encourages empathy and understanding of one another is important and should be celebrated,” the statement reads.