The restructuring of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in 2009 “weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes” and hindered its ability to reach out to the LGBT community, according to a newly released report.
The 41-page Hate Crimes Assessment Report was prepared by an independent task force created in 2012 by the Anti-Defamation League of Washington, a nationally recognized civil rights group, at the request of D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
In announcing the launching of the task force, Lanier said she asked the ADL to assist the MPD by conducting an impartial review of its programs directed toward the LGBT community, comparing them with other police departments and identifying areas that could be improved.
“MPD policies on the identification and handling of bias or hate crimes are strong and reflect many best practices of law enforcement agencies nationally,” the report concludes.
It also concludes that the “vast majority” of MPD leaders and rank and file officers have a deep commitment to “ensuring the safety and security of the LGBT community and to all of those who live, work, or visit the District of Columbia.”
But the report says a series of structural changes that the department put in place for the GLLU beginning in 2009, which were aimed at expanding the reach of the unit throughout the city, appear to have weakened its effectiveness and diminished its credibility within the LGBT community.
“MPD’s outreach to the LGBT community, which is a critical component of preventing and responding to hate crimes, is significantly less visible and effective than it was prior to the restructuring,” the report says.
“The restructuring of the GLLU reduced the size and limited the role of the central core of the GLLU, weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes and engaging in outreach, and made it less accessible and visible to the LGBT community,” says the report.
“The GLLU’s reduced visibility and presence in the LGBT community has significantly impacted the level of trust the LGBT community has in MPD,” it says.
Former Police Chief Charles Ramsey created the GLLU along with separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities in the late 1990s. Unlike police liaison units in other cities, whose responsibilities were limited mostly to public relations and educational duties, Ramsey arranged for the GLLU and the other units to investigate crimes and make arrests.
Under the leadership of its former commander, Sgt. Brett Parson, the GLLU developed strong ties to the LGBT community, assigning its officers to attend LGBT events and meetings and to patrol neighborhoods with high concentrations of LGBT residents. Although the officers were based in the GLLU headquarters in Dupont Circle, they responded to calls throughout the city and played an active role in investigating crimes targeting LGBT people, including hate crimes.
Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government recognized the GLLU as a highly effective agent for community policing and awarded the unit a grant to expand its work and assist police departments in other cities set up similar units.
In 2009, two years after then Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her, Lanier put in place a restructuring plan that, among other things, decentralized the GLLU and the other liaison units through the creation of an affiliate officers program that placed affiliate liaison unit members in each of the seven police districts. The restructuring included downsizing the central GLLU office.
LGBT activists, who said they had no objections to the creation of the affiliate program, expressed strong opposition to what they said was an initial plan by Lanier to close the GLLU’s headquarters office. Activists said at the time that the affiliate officers, who were to receive limited training on LGBT related issues, would not have the experience and depth of understanding of the LGBT community that the core GLLU officers, most of whom were gay or lesbian, had.
Lanier quickly backed down from her initial plan to disband the headquarters unit after opposition surfaced from members of the City Council. However, according to activists, she appeared to be gradually decreasing the core unit’s size.
A short time after the restructuring began, Parson requested and was given a transfer out of the unit to patrol duties. Citing budget constraints, the department replaced Parson with a sergeant who was assigned to supervise both the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit.
LGBT representatives said the lack of a full-time supervisor for the GLLU was a further indication that the chief was diminishing the ability of the GLLU to carry out its mission.
Other changes associated with the restructuring included restrictions on the types of events or meetings GLLU officers could attend and what appeared to critics as an increase in the frequency that GLLU officers were detailed to other assignments unrelated to the LGBT community.
Lanier has said that due to police personnel limitations, officers from various specialized units would be temporarily detailed to other, street patrol duties as needed.
In a series of recommendations, the Hate Crimes Assessment Report calls on the department to appoint a full-time supervisor of the GLLU and to ensure that the GLLU’s core unit is sufficiently staffed with officers.
In an 8-page response to the task force report, Lanier said she and the department’s leadership agree with most of the conclusions and recommendations of the report.
“Admittedly, some of this is difficult for me to read as it clearly details where the Department has fallen short in our goal to foster strong relationships with our great and diverse communities that enable us to jointly combat the scourge of crimes motivated by hate or bias,” Lanier said in a statement accompanying the report.
“Nonetheless, I strongly support the recommendations of the Task Force, and the Department will be working to implement them,” she said.
Among other things, Lanier said the department agrees with the report’s finding that neither the GLLU nor its affiliate officers “have the visibility in the community that is our goal, and we must improve that.”
She added, however, that it became clear from the report and meetings MPD officials had with the task force that some members of the LGBT community have “expectations” that the MPD cannot meet.
“While we value a strong relationship with the LGBT community, we are also responsible for being sound stewards of public resources,” she said in her response. “Members of the GLLU had attended events in the past that we have determined are inappropriate for police officers on-duty, including bar crawls, book clubs, and certain events in Leather Week,” according to Lanier.
“That said, we believe there are plenty of opportunities for MPD – GLLU as well as its affiliates – to strengthen outreach with the community,” she said.
In her response to the report, Lanier said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who had been detailed to serve as the GLLU’s supervisor for over a year, “has been assigned to oversee GLLU exclusively since November 2013.” She added that Mahl “is a good fit for the GLLU and its next stage of development.”
In another finding, the report says there is a belief in the LGBT community that “homophobia and transphobia are widespread within MPD, with several describing it as rampant.”
Interviews with members of the community revealed that the hostility toward transgender people, especially transgender women of color, is common among many MPD officers, the report says.
“Virtually every transgender person who spoke to us at the four community meetings reported that they had been harassed or mistreated because of their gender identity or expression, ranging from acts of ignorance and insensitivity to outright hostility and overt expressions of bigotry and harassment,” the report says.
In citing hate crimes data released by the MPD, the report notes that hate crimes targeting the LGBT community make up the highest percentage of hate crimes compared to other categories of victims, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. In 2012, the most recently year for which full data is available, there were 46 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation, comprising 57 percent of a total of 81 hate crimes for all categories.
Police data show there were 9 hate crimes reported in 2012 based on gender identity or expression.
The report doesn’t say how many cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes resulted in an arrest by police or how many of the cases remain unsolved.
“It remains unclear whether the reported increase [in anti-LGBT hate crimes] reflects an actual higher level of hate violence directed against the LGBT community, better reporting by LGBT victims, or the lack of reporting by victims in other categories,” the report says.
The task force members who wrote the report are: David Friedman, Sophie Dornstreich, Michael Liberman – Anti-Defamation League; Sara Warbelow – Human Rights Campaign; Lisa Bornstein – Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Mara Keisling and Vincent Paolo Villano – National Center for Transgender Equality; Jack McDevitt, Associate Dean and Director of the Institute of Race and Justice, Northeastern University in Boston; and Jim Nolan, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology, West Virginia University in Morgantown.
“We welcome the recommendations in the ADL report,” said Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV). “GLOV and other LGBT organizations plan to issue a community response to the recommendations in the next two weeks.”
The full report along with Lanier’s response can be seen here: http://mpdc.dc.gov/