More than 1,500 pages of private email correspondence from D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier related to the work of the city’s Hate Crimes Review Task Force show that the Task Force may be biased in favor of the police and may not present an impartial assessment of police handling of hate crimes, according to the D.C. Trans Coalition.
In written testimony submitted on Wednesday to the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, DCTC disclosed it obtained the Lanier email correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year.
DCTC’s testimony says much of the email correspondence is between Lanier and David Friedman, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington regional office, who serves as chair of the Hate Crimes Review Task Force.
“Our concern is that the ADL-led task force is a publicity stunt rather than a good-faith effort at making progress,” the DCTC statement says.
Lanier and Friedman dispute the DCTC’s assessment, saying they expect the task force to provide an independent review of the department’s response to anti-LGBT hate crimes and to make recommendations on how the response can be improved.
“It is a shame that the D.C. Trans Coalition is attacking the work of this group before they even issue their report and recommendations,” Lanier told the Washington Blade in a statement.
Lanier’s office announced last June that she enlisted the ADL, a nationally recognized group that fights prejudice and discrimination, to help the department assess how it investigates and reports hate crimes. The announcement came at a time when LGBT activists raised concerns over the police handling of hate crimes targeting the LGBT community, especially the transgender community.
The police announcement said that at ADL’s invitation, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and two university professors considered experts on hate violence agreed to join ADL as members of the task force.
DCTC says in its testimony submitted to the D.C. Council that the email correspondence between Lanier and Friedman suggests a bias exists that the task force may not be impartial.
“We received the [FOIA] results last month, five month late, only to discover evidence that the independent review isn’t really independent at all,” DCTC says in its testimony.
Freedman “appears to be a close personal friend of Chief Lanier,” the testimony says. “Further, Lanier personally approved the membership of the review task force,” a development DCTC says raises questions about its ability to make an impartial assessment of the police department’s handling of hate crimes targeting the LGBT community.
The DCTC testimony says the group learned last week at a private task force meeting held at offices of Casa Ruby, a D.C. LGBT community center with an outreach to the Latino community, that the task force will submit its findings to Chief Lanier to give her a chance to respond.
DCTC member Jason Terry told the Blade on Wednesday that a task force representative told activists attending the Casa Ruby meeting that it would be up to Lanier to decide when or if the report should be released to the public and the community.
One of the email exchanges DCTC included in its testimony, which is dated Nov. 3, 2011, shows Friedman mentioning in a lighthearted way that Lanier’s high performance ratings in a public opinion poll of 80 percent may be equivalent to a “B” on a report card.
“Actually the last Clarus poll was 84 percent. Am I slipping?” Lanier said in her response.
“Wouldn’t worry,” Friedman said in his response. “The only people who don’t like you have outstanding warrants.”
Replied Lanier: “That David is one of the many reasons I love you…So quick.”
In a phone interview on Wednesday afternoon, Friedman told the Blade his remark about outstanding warrants was a joke. He also noted that his Nov. 3 email exchange with Lanier that DCTC quoted took place at least a month before Lanier informed him of her plans for the task force and asked him to create it.
“Yes, I am lucky to call David a friend, as are many law enforcement leaders in the country,” Lanier said in her statement to the Blade. “He is a highly respected professional dedicated to making communities throughout the country safe from crime motivated by hate.”
LGBT activists who know Friedman have said he and the ADL’s D.C. regional office have been strong and outspoken advocates for LGBT rights for many years.
“We’re very proud of that,” Friedman said. “We’re proud of our leadership on hate crimes on the local and national level. And I hope that people will feel when this process is done that the task force contributed significantly to protecting the LGBT community from hate crimes and to strengthening the relationship between the LGBT community and the MPD.”
One task force member, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said the DCTC appears to have made a “premature judgment” in assessing whether the task force is biased or whether the outcome of the task force’s work would be biased.
HRC spokesperson Paul Guequierre said in a statement that ADL asked HRC to join the task force because of HRC’s “extensive work on hate crimes prevention legislation at both the state and federal levels.” He said HRC saw its participation in the task force as an opportunity to make sure “there was a fair process” in assessing the police handling of hate crimes in D.C.
“HRC is committed to ensuring that law enforcement respond swiftly and appropriately to incidents of bias crimes without further victimizing the LGBT community,” he said.
Friedman acknowledged that it was he who told people attending the task force community meeting at Casa Ruby’s that the task force’s findings and recommendations would be delivered to Lanier.
“What I said at that meeting was that the chief asked us to review the MPD handling of hate crimes and its relationship with the LGBT community was to be reviewed,” he said. “So obviously we’re going to give her first the report and our findings. She asked for this. And I have every reason to expect – I think all of us would want – these findings to be made public.”