D.C. Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham announced on Wednesday that he has assigned gay Metropolitan D.C. Police Sgt. Brett Parson to supervise the day-to-day operations of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit and three other police liaison units.
The assignment, which includes elevating Parson’s rank to acting lieutenant, returns Parson to a position similar to that which he held from 2007 to 2009, when he served as head of the then Special Liaison Office.
That office, which has since been renamed the Special Liaison Division, oversees the LGBT Liaison Unit, the Latino, Asian, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Units, and a liaison officer that works with the city’s large African immigrant community.
Parson served from 2001 to 2007 as the supervisor of the then Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, becoming widely known and praised within the LGBT community. Most LGBT activists credited Parson with significantly improving the department’s relations with the LGBT community.
Capt. Cheryl Crawley, who currently serves as head of the Special Liaison Division, said Parson’s appointment to supervise the officers assigned to the liaison units was part of a decision by Newsham to move the units to the Executive Office of the Chief of Police.
The liaison units had been operating under the department’s Patrol Services Bureau, which is headed by Assistant Chief Diane Groomes.
The change now places them directly under the control of Newsham and his staff. Crawley, who will remain in her current position, said Parson will work closely with her under what she called a “realignment” brought about by Newsham.
“He will be coming over as an acting lieutenant for supervision and management of the troops,” Crawley told the Blade.
She said she used the term troops to mean the police officers assigned to the four liaison units.
“The realignment of the Special Liaison Division to the Executive Office of the Chief of Police will only strengthen police-community relations with those that have been historically underserved,” Newsham said at a news conference on Wednesday at police headquarters.
“It will allow us to coordinate actions between these communities and all of MPD’s other bureaus,” he said. “It will strengthen communication lines with my office with more direct access.”
“Sgt. Parson will be an acting lieutenant,” Newsham said. “He will oversee all of the units. And then each of the units will have a supervisor that coordinates activities in that unit. So there will be a little bit more management involved in the units with the addition of an acting lieutenant,” he said.
Former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey created the then Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in the late 1990s. Although police departments in other parts of the country had LGBT units, Ramsey is believed to have been the first police chief to authorize members of the D.C. LGBT unit to investigate crimes, make arrests and exercise full police powers. At the time, LGBT units in other police departments were limited to community outreach and public relations duties.
The D.C. police website shows that there are currently 13 “core” liaison unit members, including two sergeants, assigned to the four liaison units. The website shows the LGBT Liaison Unit has five members, including Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, who serves as the unit’s supervisor.
Crawley said one of the five officers is a special police officer who temporarily replaced longtime LGBT Liaison Unit member Officer Joe Morquecho, who recently retired from the force.
The other LGBT Liaison Unit members shown on the website include Officers Zunnobia Hakir, Juanita Foreman and Kevin Johnson.
The MPD website shows that as of January 2016, there were a total of 218 affiliate members associated with the four liaison units. Former Police Chief Cathy Lanier created the affiliate program as part of an effort to decentralize the units and expand their reach to include affiliates from each of the department’s seven police districts.
The affiliates spend most of their time working on their regular duties in the police district or other units to which they are assigned. Under the affiliate program created by Lanier, the affiliate officers are trained in the specialized issues associated with the liaison unit they chose to become a part of and respond to calls related to the units when they become available to do so.
According to the website, as of January 2016 there were 66 affiliate officers assigned to work with the LGBT Liaison Unit.
“This is really consistent with what Interim Chief Newsham has said from the very beginning of taking over as interim chief,” Parson said. “He said right away he had two priorities. The first was he really wanted to grow and strengthen the relationships that we have with all of the communities throughout the District of Columbia.”
Newsham’s second stated priority was “to make MPD a place where officers wanted to work and stay working,” said Parson.
“And so by doing this he is really fulfilling both parts of his mission because what this does is sends a signal to the community hopefully of the importance that the liaison units play in his vision of our department,” Parson said. “It says our outreach and our partnerships with the community are as close as they can get to his office so that we have access to his staff, and that his staff has access to us.”
Parson has said he chose to leave his post as manager of the liaison units in 2009 because he wanted to return to his previous work as a patrol officer. But some LGBT activists speculated that he left because he disagreed with the direction that Lanier, who became chief in 2007, was taking the liaison units, especially the LGBT unit.
Although they praised Lanier for expanding the reach of the liaison units through the affiliate program, some LGBT activists said the LGBT Liaison Unit in particular became far less visible and active in the LGBT community during Lanier’s tenure as chief.
Parson began his career as a police officer in 1994 after previously working in a totally different profession. Prior to entering the D.C. police academy he served as a referee with minor and major hockey leagues, including the National Hockey League. He remains an avid hockey fan and has played on amateur hockey teams.
Upon becoming a D.C. police officer, Parson has served in a wide range of police units and assignments, including work as a patrol supervisor in at least two police districts, as supervisor of the Violent Crimes Investigative Unit, and a member of the Narcotics Branch.
In recent years, Parson has served as a trainer at the police academy with a specialty in LGBT-related police issues. He has been invited to provide LGBT-related training for police departments in other U.S. cities as well as before law enforcement agencies in other countries.
He received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and Spanish from the University of Maryland and pursued his master’s degree in criminal justice and counseling also at the University of Maryland, according to his official biography.