An external website for the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) is no longer operating, prompting some local LGBT activists to question why the site – which they use as an important resource in combating anti-LGBT crimes and fostering relations with MPD – was recently shut down without notice.
Brian Watson, director of programs at Transgender Health Empowerment (THE), said he was shocked to learn that the website gllu.org had been shut down after one of his clients tried to access it.
(Photo by Todd Franson)
''I'm surprised they shut it down, especially considering that most of the resources and materials and magnets we pass out that they gave us advertise the website,'' Watson said. ''More recently, they came by with a few new fliers announcing a new phone number for the GLLU, but it didn't have the website on it.''
He added that with a recent change in the GLLU phone number as well, THE clients who experience violence or harassment may have difficulty contacting the GLLU directly. He said that not all of his clients have regular access to the Internet or to phones, and others won't follow up if they don't know where to be routed.
David Mariner, executive director of The DC Center, the District's LGBT community center, said he too was surprised to find the site down in early November. Several other community groups also complained to Mariner, who posted a note on Facebook, and some contacted Metro Weekly to find out what happened.
Earlier this month, after the shut down, the message greeting visitors to what had been the GLLU's site read:
''GLLU.org website shut down. If you need police assistance, call 911. At the request of the Chief of the DC Metropolitan Police Department, the GLLU web site at www.gluu.org has been shut down. The reason provided was 'budgetary issues,' however the website has been maintained for the past 10 years by a volunteer staff at zero cost to the Department. To access information about the current unit, please visit mpdc.dc.gov.page/gay-and-lesbian-liaison-gllu on the MPD web site.
''GLLU.org previously provided community policing information, safety tips and alerts, hate crimes information and other information of value to the GLBT community. The volunteers who maintained the site since its inception would like to thank you for your interest and support.
''Several years ago, MPD's GLLU was a nationally-recognized example of community policing, winning the Harvard Innovations in American Government Award and a large grant to duplicate its model of policing around the country. In 2006, the GLLU logged over 500 cases involving events or crimes by, against, or involving the GLBT community. In 2011, GLLU's numbers dwindled to approximately 50 such cases for the year. To read about the award-winning work that GLLU performed, click here or watch the video below.''
The site then posted a link and a video to the page, both of which contained information about the unit being awarded the grant for its innovations in policing.
Hassan Naveed, a spokesman for Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), said GLOV was disappointed to lose the gllu.org website.
''There was a great deal of important information present on GLLU.org,'' Naveed said in a Nov. 9 statement. ''We hope that MPD has made provisions to update their official website with the resources and information provided on GLLU's public website.''
But MPD did not agree with what was posted on the site immediately after the shutdown, telling Metro Weekly that the statement initially posted following the shutdown was erroneous.
''Contrary to what is posted on the gllu.org site, Chief [Cathy] Lanier did not shut the site down,'' read a statement from MPD spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump. ''That website was maintained by a volunteer who is no longer able to maintain the site. All four units of the Special Liaison Division are represented on MPD's website.''
In the past week, the original statement on gllu.org has been taken down and replaced by a message reading:
''The DC Metropolitan Police has moved the website of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. Below is a statement from MPD on how to access the new website,'' followed by directions for accessing the GLLU site through the mpd.dc.gov site's search function, and listing contact information for the unit.
But Matt Ashburn, who personally purchased and registered the gllu.org website's domain, told Metro Weekly that he was contacted weeks ago by Sterling Spangler, who had been acting as the developer of the website on a volunteer basis. According to Ashburn, Spangler told him he was contacted by the chief's office and told that the website had to come down. Spangler confirmed to Metro Weekly that the order to take down the website came from MPD, the reason being that the gllu.org site was a redundant cost as MPD maintains a GLLU page on its official website.
But both Ashburn and Spangler, former volunteers with the GLLU, pointed out that the money for the website was coming from the Harvard grant mentioned in the first statement posted to the gllu.org site. The department was awarded the grant, which was being used in part to pay for the server on which the gllu.org website was housed. Both said a substantial portion of the grant money has not been used.
''The Police Department didn't maintain the website for the GLLU,'' Ashburn said. ''I purchased the domain name because I still believe in the mission of the GLLU. The Police Department, at the time, had no website for the unit. There was a lot of reliance on volunteers to maintain the website. But, make no mistake, that was the official website of the GLLU.''
He also pointed out that while MPD is saying the gllu.org site was an ''unofficial website,'' it was listed on all its community outreach materials.
''There had been years and years of work put into this, marketing to the community, building up a brand,'' Ashburn said.
But Ashburn also noted that the grant had been won under former MPD Chief Charles Ramsey, whom he characterized as a strong supporter of the GLLU. Ashburn and Spangler also noted that when Lanier took the lead at MPD, she decentralized the GLLU and introduced its current structure, where police officers serve as trained ''affiliates'' within one of the city's seven police districts.