Community Responds to Task Force Recommendations

Seven local groups issue response to report assessing the relationship between D.C. police and LGBT residents

Seven local groups that deal with LGBT rights issued a combined response Thursday to findings of the Anti-Defamation League’s Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force (HCATF) as well as to the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) response to recommendations made in the HCATF report, which was released Feb. 26.

The Anti-Defamation League initially interceded to establish the task force at the request of MPD Chief Cathy Lanier after relations between MPD and several local LGBT groups became strained over concerns related to how MPD responds to crimes involving members of the transgender community. Of particular concern was whether anti-transgender bias may have played a role.

Staff members from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and scholars from Northeastern University and West Virginia University also participated in the task force, which used surveys, interviews and focus groups to gauge the relationship between police and local LGBT communities.

The seven groups – The DC Center, Washington’s primary LGBT center; Casa Ruby, a service organization and community center with a focus on the area’s Latino LGBT community; the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC); the nonpartisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. (GLAA); Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), a program of The DC Center; HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive); and the Rainbow Response Coalition, dedicated to countering intimate-partner violence (IPV) – said they appreciated the work of the members of the task force and thanked Lanier for ”providing a thoughtful and constructive response” to the HCATF recommendations.

”We see the Task Force’s report, MPD’s response, and this document as an important starting point to an essential dialogue on improving relations between MPD and our communities,” the groups wrote in their response. ”We look forward to that effort.”

The coalition also noted that while there have been some improvements with regard to improving police relations, there is need for improvement. The groups pointed to statistics from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey and from their own surveys, including the most recent DC Trans Needs Assessment, indicating LGBT people have largely been hesitant to reach out to police, whether in cases of hate-based violence or intimate-partner violence.

The coalition did acknowledge some positive outcomes, including MPD’s adoption of one of the nation’s most comprehensive policies regarding police interactions with transgender people, and the efforts of many within the coalition to work with MPD in training police officers in LGBT cultural competency. The coalition cautioned, however, that while some community members reported improvements in interactions with police, others reported interactions ranging from ”outright brutality to verbal harassment.”

Regarding the effectiveness the MPD’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), the seven groups were in agreement with most of the task force’s recommendations, but also criticized the restructuring of the GLLU from a highly centralized office to an affiliate program.

”Since the 2009 liaison unit restructuring, there has been significant confusion about the role, composition, and responsiveness of GLLU, as the Task Force has well documented,” the groups wrote. ”Some of our concerns have been the frustration with the loss of access to top MPD leadership, as well as the ongoing difficulty of simply not knowing who to call as responsibilities have continued to shift over the last few years.”

The groups also cited their limited resources and dependence on volunteers in response to MPD’s expectation of requiring LGBT groups to promote outreach events. The coalition did recommend that civilian staff, such as a qualified graduate of the Project Empowerment program, could be used to manage outreach, coordination and communication efforts, rather than relying on officers to shoulder the burden.

The coalition of groups recommended that MPD continue detailing affiliate officers to the GLLU for 30-day rotations, and should keep data on which officers have completed that detail. The coalition also recommended post-training testing and other assessments to ensure officers are fluent in GLLU protocols. The groups also demanded transparency on how the largely unspent funds from a grant to MPD from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government are being used to enhance the role of the GLLU.

The coalition agreed with task force recommendations to improve hate-crime data, but was ”skeptical” of a task force suggestion that there may be over-reporting of anti-LGBT hate crimes.

”Given extensive mistrust of MPD by several segments of our communities, combined with trends in other cities that reflect that LGBTQ communities are generally less likely to report hate crimes, we believe that there is a greater chance that hate crimes are significantly underreported,” the groups wrote. ”Nonetheless, we look forward to exploring ways to continue to improve data collection.”

The group’s response included recommendations regarding police interactions with particular groups, including transgender people, sex workers, youth and victims of intimate-partner violence. The groups emphasized a need for all MPD officers – including veteran officers – to be trained in cultural competency and be knowledgeable of MPD’s existing policy on dealing with transgender people, while also asking MPD to set up measures to hold officers accountable, with specific repercussions for when misconduct occurs.

The groups also suggested the D.C. Council take a greater role in this particular dialogue, including repealing ”prostitution-free zones” and decriminalizing sex work; strengthening the authority of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC); authorizing a standing committee of the Police Complaints Review Board to address biased policing; and holding annual oversight hearings on MPD relations with marginalized communities.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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