LGBT advocates say expanding DPD position could lead to safer streets for the community
In 1998, there were just two anti-gay hate crimes reported in Washington, D.C.
In each of the last two years, there were between 50 and 60.
"That doesn’t mean there have been more hate crimes," said Cmdr. Brett Parson, who oversees the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. "It means we’re finally getting them reported to us. We’re finally recognizing what they are and investigating them."
Parson said better documentation of anti-gay hate crimes and other LGBT-related offenses has been one of several key benefits of the unit, which was formed nine years ago and now includes six full-time officers.
Parson said the unit generally fosters a stronger relationship between the police department and the LGBT community, leading to fewer complaints, more crimes solved, and more officers who feel comfortable being openly gay. He also maintained that the unit hasn’t cost the city any additional money.
Now, LGBT advocates in Dallas are hoping the city will join D.C. and others that have dedicated one or more full-time police officers to the function of LGBT liaison.
Dallas’s LGBT liaison officer position, which started informally as early as the mid-1980s, has always been a part-time assignment, but the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance is pushing to change that.
DPD Officer Laura Martin, an out lesbian who’s served as LGBT community liaison officer for the last three years, currently is assigned to a full-time bicycle patrol at White Rock Lake Park.
Martin said she spends an average of only about one hour a day on LGBT-related affairs, responding to e-mails sent to a Resource Center of Dallas account, firstname.lastname@example.org, and periodically attending community events.
Patti Fink, president of DGLA, said if the liaison position becomes full-time, Martin would be "fully and wholly dedicated every day she works to serving the LGBT community."
The result, Fink said, would be increased reporting of crimes by the LGBT community, prompting DPD to allocate more resources to areas like the gay entertainment district, which already has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the city.
"It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation I think for our community," Fink said. "If they’re fearful of the police, they’re not going to report crimes. I think the first step is to create a safe zone for people to access help."
In an interview this week, Martin stressed that it would be inappropriate for her to advocate either for or against a full-time liaison officer position.
But she acknowledged that it’s difficult at times to balance her regular patrol with her duties as liaison — especially given that she’s stationed so far from the city’s heavily gay neighborhoods.
Martin said if the position were full time, she likely would work out of the Resource Center in Oak Lawn.
"If I had an office where it was easy for people to meet with me without calling 911, without being embarrassed if they aren’t out, I think more people would come forward and report," Martin said. "It might give us a better idea of what’s going on and where crime is happening if people felt free to come to a neutral place and make a report with an officer that they know is gay-friendly."
Martin previously worked as a patrol officer assigned to the Oak Lawn area but applied for the White Rock Lake beat when it became available about 18 months ago, with the understanding that she could remain LGBT liaison officer.
In response to Martin’s reassignment, the department last year assigned an LGBT liaison officer to assist her in Oak Lawn. But the assistant liaison, Officer Sandra Calanche, isn’t gay and is part of a regular interactive community policing unit.
Martin said she believes she’s the only officer currently on the DPD force who’d be willing to publicly identify as gay or lesbian.
Fink said she plans to set up a meeting with Chief David Kunkle and other DPD officials to discuss making Martin’s position full-time.
Kunkle didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment made through a department spokesman this week.
It’s unclear whether making Martin’s position full-time would require any action by the City Council, but DGLA polled candidates on the issue as part of its endorsement process prior to this year’s municipal election.
"I would say by and large all of the candidates supported expansion of that program," Fink said.
City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who represents part of Oak Lawn, said this week while she’s supportive of the concept of a full-time LGBT liaison officer, she’s concerned about the cost in the face of the city’s current $100 million deficit.
"I think it’s definitely a position that’s needed," Hunt said. "We just have to figure out if it’s possible to do that in this budget."
Hunt’s district includes portions of DPD’s Cedar Springs Wycliff Targeted Action Area Grid, or TAAG, which has one of the highest rates of violent crime of any area in Dallas.
The Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, which covers less than 1 square mile, ranked fourth for violent offenses among 26 crime hotspots citywide in the first three months of 2009. From January through March, the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG recorded 44 violent offenses, which includes murders, robberies, rapes and aggravated assaults.
"The good news is that [overall] crime has dropped by double digits, so things are getting safer, but at the same time it’s not acceptable to have any part of our city that people are afraid to walk around in," Hunt said.
Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, whose district includes the remainder of the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, said she’d like to meet with Martin to discuss the idea of making the position full-time before approaching DPD officials.
"I think it’s a really good idea," Medrano said. "I think it would be part of the solution. It’s not just one thing that’s going to solve some of the issues, whether it’s Cedar Springs or other areas."
Parson, the D.C. unit commander, said he isn’t in a position to say whether Dallas should have a full-time LGBT liaison officer, because he doesn’t know enough about the situation.
But he added that he doesn’t think the debate should hinge on budgetary concerns.
"Most police administrators claim they can’t afford it, and that is a complete red herring. It doesn’t cost anything to do," Parson said, adding that his unit utilized existing officers and equipment. "They’re still doing police work. They’re still handling calls for service. Rather than a geographic area, they’re focused on a demographic."
Parson said the number of departments nationwide with LGBT liaison officers is "in the dozens," although most are part-time positions. Asked whether the need for such officers is declining as LGBT acceptance grows, Parson said he thinks the opposite is true.
"As acceptance grows, I think you’re going to see more problems, because as we become more visible, the problems become visible as well," said Parson, who’s openly gay. "If the community there is quite comfortable going to the police and they feel the relationship is already strong, you may not need a full-time person. This should be community driven. That’s what it’s all about."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2009.