Lacking Liaison

LGBT activists decry de-emphasis of MPD's gay liaison unit, lack of transgender inclusion in tracking hate crimes

Yusef Najafi
Published on November 24, 2009, 12:05pm | Comments

Little more than two years ago, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy Lanier sat with members of the local LGBT community and promised that the force's award-winning Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) would not shrink or disband under her leadership.

At that summer 2007 meeting, Lanier said she intended to expand the unit's services by training officers from all seven police districts to respond to calls that the centralized GLLU in Dupont Circle would normally handle.

Yet two years later the GLLU has gone from a full-time sergeant and seven officers, to two officers and a part-time sergeant. Sgt. Carlos Mejia, who also heads the Latino Liaison Unit, now heads the GLLU. MPD's special liaison units (SLU) also include the Asian Liaison Unit and the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit.

Local activist Peter Rosenstein was one of 10 witnesses addressing concerns about the special liaison units before the D.C. City Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary on Friday, Nov. 20.

Rosenstein pointed out that while 57 officers have signed-up for a four-day SLU training at the end of this month, it will be the first such training since Lanier's pledge two years ago. Of those 57, 23 will specialize in the GLLU. With this training, those officers will be able to field GLLU calls in addition to their regular assignments, rather than becoming full-time GLLU officers.

''They are flying by the seat of their pants in an effort to put something together, and meanwhile the GLBT community is losing all faith in the MPD,'' he said.

Part of Lanier's promise to the local LGBT community was to include community representatives in crafting the training seminar. Rosenstein testified that the community was not involved, saying that while training is set to run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, the community has yet ''to see what they're actually being trained on.''

Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who chairs the committee, was the only councilmember on the bench for the entirety of the approximately five-hour hearing. He was joined briefly by Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At Large).

In his exchange with Lanier, Mendelson asked her about GLLU's downsizing, as well as another change to the unit: The sergeant in charge of the unit once reported to the chief directly, but in a Nov. 19 letter to Mendelson, Lanier presented a diagram that introduces several layers of administration between heads of liaison units and the chief.

Lanier defended the additional administration, saying, ''If I want to effectively expand this to all seven districts, there has to be adequate management and supervision."

When asked by Mendelson about GLLU's downsizing, Lanier said Lt. Brett Parson, a popular member of the GLBT community and former head of both the GLLU and the SLU, asked to return to street patrolling. Further, one GLLU officer was promoted, another was placed on administrative leave, and one was fired. Lanier added that it's difficult to recruit for the unit.

''The last time I announced the position for a sergeant [for the GLLU], I got one applicant,'' she said. ''It is very hard to get officers in specialized units.''

Beyond the GLLU specifically, other areas addressed Friday included the September 2008 homicide of a gay man, Tony Randolph Hunter, and the handling of that case by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia; and Mayor Adrian Fenty's Bias-related Crime Report, dated Nov. 19, which states that in 2008 anti-LGBT hate crimes increased 15 percent from the previous year.

''[The report] contains a glaring omission that severely undercuts the credibility of the rest of the report,'' Rick Rosendall, of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), said in his testimony. ''While the word 'transgender' appears several times in descriptions of the GLBT community, and 'gender identity or expression' is included among the protected categories, 'gender identity or expression' is not included as a 'type of bias' in the table of hate crimes. … To learn that our own police are not even tracking anti-transgender hate crimes as such is mind-boggling.''

Chris Farris, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), told the committee that GLOV has received numerous reports that calls to the GLLU have not been responded to. He added that since Parson's departure as head of the liaison units in mid-September, he no longer receives regular reports from the GLLU.

''Several officers have told me that they have been instructed to stop sharing data with us,'' Farris said.

Lanier said that she would ask for an investigation into that claim.