Prosecutors will go through sensitivity training to ensure better communication with the LGBT community
In a move that demonstrates the growing LGBT influence in public policy, the Dallas County District Attorney’s office has created a task force that will address how that office interacts with the community.
“Several months back, I took the opportunity to meet with leaders in the LGBT community and discovered there was a communication gap between many law enforcement agencies and the LGBT community,” Dallas County DA Craig Watkins said. “I was disappointed to hear that many victims of domestic violence or hate crimes were afraid to speak out because they feared lack of a law enforcement response.”
The task force, comprised of attorneys, an investigator, a senior caseworker and a spokesperson was established to ensure there is communication between the DA and the community, Watkins said. He added that it goes into effect Friday.
Cece Cox, Resource Center CEO, said there have been times when the community has faced discrimination and bias from law enforcement and legal institutions dealing with hate crimes and family violence. But she is hopeful that the task force will help eliminate that problem.
“The task force, along with the liaison positions that currently exist at Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, is a positive step toward ensuring that LGBT persons will be treated with dignity and respect,” she said, “and that hate crimes against them will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”
Watkins’ office isn’t without an LGBT presence. His community relations consultant, James Tate, is out, and he contributed to the dialogue that created the task force.
“I had an ongoing discussion with the DA, telling him how important it is for us (LGBT) to be heard and that there are people who are apprehensive about reporting crimes,” Tate said. “With the creation of the task force and other initiatives the office is planning, it makes me feel incredibly proud to work with such a progressive and maverick leader.”
The task force’s operations will begin with an initial sensitivity training for all prosecutors in the DA’s office, with additional future training for new prosecutors. Ellyce Lindberg, chief of intake and grand jury, will conduct the training.
“Mr. Watkins’ new initiative is just one more of his innovative steps toward protecting and respecting victims of crime,” Lindberg said. “It comes at an ideal time in his administration due to his new electronic case management system, which is soon to be implemented.”
Lindberg added that there never has been a systematic way to track the kind of cases inherent to the LGBT community, but with the ability to electronically manage cases, those that have been designated as part of the task force initiative will be better monitored.
As of press time, the DA’s office didn’t have the statistics available that would indicate how critical the lack of communication has been, but Watkins affirmed he’s prepared to correct it.
“As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, ‘A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ and this Task Force will assist in ensuring that members of our community receive protection from criminal harms, regardless of their orientation or identity/expression,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.