Laura Martin now based at headquarters, assigned solely to gay community
For the first time in recent memory, Dallas has a full-time police liaison to the LGBT community.
DPD Officer Laura Martin, one of the few out members of the force, has served as LGBT liaison part time for the last four years in addition to her full-time patrol duties.
But in response to requests from a citizens’ LGBT task force set up by City Councilwoman Delia Jasso last fall, Martin began working full time as liaison this week.
Martin, now stationed at Jack Evans Police Headquarters downtown, said Wednesday, Feb. 24, that while some of the details of her new assignment still must be ironed out, she’s excited about the change.
"There are definitely enough things to do once you show that you’re available," said Martin, an 11-year veteran of the force. "It was getting to be too demanding trying to divide my time. Now that shouldn’t be an issue."
Martin hopes she’ll now be able spend more time at the "neutral location" of Resource Center Dallas, where she previously could go only one day a week. She’s also looking forward to attending meetings of community groups including Youth First Texas, educating people about the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, and being visible in places like the Cedar Springs strip at night.
Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said she’s "absolutely thrilled" that Martin is now full time. DGLA has been actively pushing for the change since at least last spring, when the group quizzed city council candidates about whether they’d support it.
"I’m elated that we’re finally at a place where her role as the LGBT liaison officer to our community is really, fully supported up and down the chain," Fink said. "I think it’s very, very good for our community."
As it turned out, the change didn’t require council approval.
Assistant Police Chief Daniel Garcia said in response to the task force’s concerns, he made the decision to expand the liaison position after consulting with Martin and Police Chief David Kunkle.
"It was really a very easy decision," said Garcia, who called Martin "a terrific officer."
"We’re very committed to seeing this through to see what kind of opportunities and benefits it has for us," he said.
Garcia stressed that Martin will still be doing police work. For example, he said, if an armed robber is targeting gay victims near the bars, Martin will be involved in the investigation.
In 2009, the area surrounding Dallas’ largest gay entertainment district recorded the fourth-highest number of violent crimes of any area of the city.
"I don’t expect her to respond to calls, but I do expect her to be informed in relation to intelligence being gathered," Garcia said.
Fink said DPD’s decision to expand Martin’s position shows that the city values good relations with the LGBT community, and that the department supports openly LGBT officers.
"The goal is to be such that no LGBT person is afraid in any way of the police, or afraid to make a report if they’ve experienced a crime, and to have that free-flowing, trusting relationship," Fink said. "Over time, what we really hope to see is that a lot of people throughout the city, who may not come to the entertainment district, who may not read the Voice, who may not be plugged in in any way to any sort of activism, will also have an opportunity to know she’s there."
Fink credited Jasso, a first-term councilwoman who represents the heavily gay District 1, with pushing through the proposal. Jasso was in Washington, D.C., and unavailable for comment this week.
Damien Duckett, chairman of DGLA’s political action committee and one of the leaders of Jasso’s task force, said expansion of the liaison position is one of several initiatives the group has been working on. The task force has met privately with city officials on a monthly basis since September.
"DGLA’s been looking into this for quite some time and laying the groundwork as far as lobbying and opening up that discussion with council members and with Laura herself even," Duckett said. "The task force just kind of pushed it the final few steps, in actually sitting down with the city manager [Mary Suhm] and Laura Martin and other superiors within the police force."
Duckett said the task force is also working on a proposal to expand LGBT diversity training for the Police Department. Currently only new recruits undergo the training, but the task force wants to provide in-service training to veteran officers.
"The task force was put in place to be proactive on issues relating to the GLBT community and the city," Duckett said. "We didn’t want something to happen like what happened in Fort Worth with the Rainbow Lounge raid to happen, and there not be some sort of entity already in place that could handle that."
Last June’s police raid of the Rainbow Lounge prompted the city of Fort Worth to create a full-time LGBT liaison officer position. Fort Worth also plans to conduct LGBT diversity training for all city employees.
Other local agencies with LGBT liaisons include the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and Dallas Fire-Rescue, although those assignments are only part time.
The Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer position was created in the mid-1980s to improve historically rocky relations between law enforcement and the gay community.
When Martin took over the position in 2006, she was a beat officer in Oak Lawn.
After Martin was transferred to a bicycle patrol at White Rock Lake in 2008, the department assigned a straight officer to serve as assistant LGBT liaison in Oak Lawn.
At the beginning of this year, Martin was transferred from White Rock Lake to the Central Business District.
Little data is available on how many departments in the U.S. have LGBT liaison officers.
Brett Parson, former commander of Washington, D.C.’s eight-officer Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, said he believes the number is "in the dozens," though he said most are part time.
Parson said the biggest benefit of liaison officers is that they improve communication between departments and the LGBT community, which makes citizens feel safer and police more effective.
"I think it’s always a step in the right direction if you give someone more time to dedicate to a part of the community that’s demanding more attention," Parson said. "They have a name and a face that they know in the police department they can trust. Your ability to fight crime and deter crime is increased."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.