I continue to have a good relationship and like Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier on a personal level, but there is a growing rift between Lanier and the LGBT community. This is in stark contrast to the community’s strong relationship with former Chief Ramsey. The relationship with Lanier was good after her appointment but has since gone steadily downhill.
In December 2006 Mayor-elect Fenty named Lanier as his police chief. She quickly held a small but important getting-to-know-you meeting with a diverse group representing the LGBT community arranged by Lt. Brett Parson, then head of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU). This award-winning unit was the pride and joy of our community and an example Chief Ramsey often used when talking about good community policing.
Chief Lanier spoke highly of the unit and committed to keeping it at full strength, a campaign promise made by candidate Fenty. Barely four months later there were rumblings about her lack of support for the unit and liaison units as a whole. In May 2007 Lanier issued a statement that she was going to begin changing, and in essence dismantling, the units. There was an outcry from the LGBT and the Latino communities and opposition to the changes from the D.C. Council forced the chief to back down. There was a stormy meeting at MPD headquarters with the chief. In exchange for her saying it was a “rookie mistake,” the community issued a statement of continued support for her.
It seems possible — though I hope not the case — that Chief Lanier’s moves against the liaison units since that time, and her lack of communication, have been partly a response to the community having called her out on the issue and winning. In October 2009, the chief again announced a broad change in the GLLU structure without any consultation with the community. She claimed it had been in the works for a year. Unfortunately by then, Mayor Fenty had also abandoned his pledge to the community. The chief announced there would be trained members of the GLLU in every precinct who understood and could deal with the issues impacting the LGBT community.
The community responded and correctly stated that there had been no training and was then grudgingly allowed minimal input into the proposed training modules. By that time, the core unit of the GLLU was understaffed, without resources to respond to the community, and without a sergeant.
Since then there have been continued battles with the chief over the structure of the unit and Lanier has continued to make changes without consulting the community, resulting in a clear diminishment of service to the community. Training of the new officers who are nominally part of the unit has been sporadic and until recently the community never received an accurate list of who these officers were.
In the interim there has been a documented rise in hate crimes in the District with an overwhelming impact on the LGBT community, ranging from name calling, robbery and assault, to murder. There has been a Council resolution on hate crimes and two hearings held by Council member Phil Mendelson.
At both those hearings, Chief Lanier has either downplayed the issue or told outright untruths about hate crime reporting. Recently, Lanier made another change to the leadership of the liaison units and now they report to a civilian in the department. She made no effort to discuss this and its possible impact with any community and didn’t bother to inform the mayor who confirmed this at a town hall meeting with the LGBT community in June.
The recent attack on five lesbians in Columbia Heights and the fact that the officers responding let a perpetrator go and didn’t file a report on the incident highlight what the community has been saying for years. Although the chief’s concept of a GLLU spread out across the District is a nice idea conceptually, the MPD isn’t ready to effectively implement that. The community needs and demands a fully staffed and functioning core GLLU.
I understand and applaud the overall success that the MPD has had in fighting crime. But in our community hate crimes are a major issue and they getting worse. The chief and the mayor, who as a candidate made a commitment to fully staff the GLLU, must work this out and abide by that commitment. Nothing less than our lives are at stake.