November 27, 2009 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. police chief assailed at hate crimes hearing

Representatives of the LGBT community and the head of the D.C. police union told a City Council hearing on Nov. 20 that District Police Chief Cathy Lanier has failed to take adequate steps to curtail hate crimes targeting gays and transgender people.

Kris Baumann, chair of the Fraternal Order of Police, and officials with five local LGBT organizations said Lanier has turned down their repeated request to assign more officers to the department’s highly acclaimed Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, whose ranks have been reduced from seven to two members since Lanier became chief in 2007.

“What the chief has done is decimate that unit,” said gay activist Peter Rosenstein.

Lanier took strong exception to that assessment, telling the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary that she is expanding the GLLU and other special liaison units in the department by assigning officers “affiliated” with the units to each of the department’s seven police districts.

She said her plan calls for assigning a total of 57 officers or supervisors to all four of the special liason units, including the GLLU. She said about 20 of the 57 would be assigned to the GLLU, making it far more responsive to the community than a seven-member centralized unit.

Lanier told the committee she would keep her promise to LGBT activists to retain a small, centralized GLLU office.

But Baumann and Chris Farris, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, each said Lanier has “systematically” dismantled the GLLU’s operations under the promise of replacing it with a decentralized unit that she has yet to produce more than two years after she first proposed the reorganization.

“I am unfortunately significantly less optimistic today about this city’s willingness to tackle the difficult issue of hate crimes than I was a year ago,” Farris told the committee.

“I do not see what I think is needed – most importantly, leadership at the top, and a firm commitment to roll up our sleeves and treat the issue as it must be treated – holistically,” he said. “This means the MPD, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the D.C. Public School system, the mayor, and this City Council must all be unequivocally committed to the fight.”

Farris questioned recent police data showing the number of LGBT-related hate crime has decreased since 2006. He said he believes the decrease is due to a lack of reporting that came about as a result of GLLU’s reduction in staff and its inability to push more aggressively for reporting hate crimes.

Lanier and Assistant Chief Diane Grooms testified that a long-awaited training course for prospective GLLU officers would begin shortly. Lanier said she has found from her own conversations with LGBT officers that they prefer to remain in their regular units in the police districts rather than be “pigeonholed” in a special gay related unit.

She angered some of the activists attending the hearing when she said she didn’t believe they represent the views of LGBT people in the neighborhoods across the city.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee, said he would continue to monitor the department’s response to hate crimes against all city residents. He and the LGBT representatives that testified at the hearing noted that anti-LGBT hate crimes in the city far outnumber hate crimes targeting other groups.

A report released last week by Mayor Adrian Fenty and Lanier, “Bias-Related Crime in the District of Columbia,” shows that “sexual orientation” related hate crimes comprised more than 70 percent of the total number of hate crimes in the city each year from 2005 through 2009.

So far this year, out of a total of 36 reported hate crimes, 30 were classified as “sexual orientation” related hate crimes.

Alison Gill, an official with the D.C. Trans Coalition, and Julius Agers, a transgender activist, told the committee they were pleased that Fenty and Lanier published the bias-related crime report – three years after the report was due under rules set by the City Council.

But the two said they were troubled that the report did not break down the statistics to show the number of hate crimes specifically targeting transgender people in the city. They noted that a number of widely reported anti-trans hate crimes have occurred in the District in recent years.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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