Hampton Roads Pride on March 15 announced the Newport News Police Department appointed Sgt. Jessica Pennington as its LGBT liaison.
“It’s a very important position,” Newport News Police Department spokesperson Lou Thurston told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “We feel the need to fill that.”
“She’s a very able person for any job that she would be given,” added Thurston. “She takes what she does seriously.”
The Norfolk Police Department in 2015 appointed Sgt. Craig Lovelace as its LGBT liaison. The Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Hampton Police Departments have followed suit.
The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office also has two LGBT liaisons.
“The LGBT law enforcement liaison position is incredibly important because there is a historical mistrust for law enforcement rooted in the LGBT community and conversely there has been a lack of understanding from law enforcement,” said Sgt. Michelle “Shelly” Meister, who is the Virginia Beach Police Department’s LGBT liaison, in a press release that Hampton Roads Pride released on March 15. “As the Virginia Beach Police Department’s LGBT liaison, I have had the opportunity to bridge this divide and bring clarity and trust to both sides.”
Hampton Roads Pride President Michael Berlucchi, who lives in Virginia Beach, said his organization is “grateful that every municipal police department in Hampton Roads has appointed an LGBT liaison officer.”
“Hampton Roads Pride is encouraged by the law enforcement community’s affirmative response to the changing social and political landscape for LGBT individuals,” he added.
The Newport News Police Department appointed Pennington as its LGBT liaison less than two months after Hampton Roads Pride held a public safety town hall at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk that nearly 300 people attended. Carl Johansen, who is a member of the Hampton Roads Pride board of directors, told the Blade on Tuesday that the CIA and the FBI have also worked with organization in their efforts to recruit LGBT agents.
“We wanted to better our relationship or bridge that relationship between the LGBT community and the police departments,” he said. “It has been a great program.”