In the District, the award-winning Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department has been a much used resource for the city’s GLBT community, especially in times of high-profile crime sprees, when seeking a liaison to the MPD, when fighting community drug addiction, or a host of other reasons.
Just south of the District line, in Arlington, the priorities aren’t quite the same.
”D.C. is a lot more urban,” says Officer Loreann Grimes of the Arlington County Police Department, who wrote the proposal to launch Arlington’s own Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit more than two years ago.
”Even though Arlington is urban, D.C. has an obvious gay area with a lot of clubs. The club drugs are big there, where they are not that big here,” she says, adding that areas of prostitution are also a rarity in Arlington.
”We don’t have any of those really urban type criminal elements,” explains Grimes, who lives in Arlington with her partner of two years.
Launched in April of 2006 and originally modeled after D.C.’s GLLU, Arlington County’s GLLU just doesn’t deal with the same issues as Washington’s unit. Instead, Arlington County’s GLLU, functioning with an ”as-needed,” four-member staff who primarily serve patrol duties as Arlington Police officers, usually deals with same-sex domestic violence incidents that may include beatings, threats, theft, stalking and computer crimes.
While the Arlington GLLU’s day-to-day may have a more suburban flavor, that’s not to say there’s not also a symbolic importance to the unit.
”There’s a community here in Arlington that feels they’re underrepresented. The reason why I’m on the unit is to make those feelings disappear,” says Officer Matt Rihl, who lives in Annapolis with his partner. ”I want [the GLBT community] to know that if they don’t feel comfortable talking to an officer…there is another outlet here that will make them feel more comfortable. We’ll do anything we can to make the process go easier and make them feel a little bit more at ease.”
In 2008, Capt. Michelle Nuneville, who heads the unit, says she is hoping to increase the number of its sworn officers beyond the current four, which are herself, Grimes, Rihl and Roseanne Munizza. The unit was originally launched with a seven-member staff.
”We lost a couple of people due to other commitments within the department and outside of the department,” Nuneville says.
”I’m going to put the word out to the department to look for those who would be interested in serving on the team,” she adds. ”I’m not looking for a specific number, I’d just like to increase it a little bit more. That way the three officers are not the ones attending all the functions we have. A variety of people can help out.”
Nuneville says Arlington’s GLLU is also hoping to improve its funding resources in the coming year.
”The team is not funded per se,” she says. ”We don’t have a specific amount of money that is dedicated to this particular team.”
So far the unit has relied on donations including those from the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
”They gave us money to do the business cards with magnets on the back. We used those as a recruiting tool.”
Grimes looked to members of AGLA and Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar in Crystal City, when drafting a proposal to launch the unit, which she presented to Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott.
In the proposal, Grimes suggested documenting GLBT-related incidents, conducting sensitivity training among the department’s officers and recruiting openly GLBT staff members, among other suggestions.
Establishing the unit was not an overnight accomplishment.
”It took 14 months to get the proposal approved officially,” Grimes says. ”There was a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of back and forth, with changing words and what our goals were, and what our mission statement would be, just some of the bureaucratic stuff that you have to go through when dealing with government entities.”
A lot has changed since GLLU’s inception.
”One of the main functions of the unit is to train Arlington County Police Officers on how to deal with members of the GLBT community,” Rihl says.
Over the past year and a half, officers have been increasingly likely to contact the GLLU for assistance in dealing with GLBT-related incidents.
”We tell them that you have to go in with an open mind,” says Rihl. ”When you’re out there on the street, you’re there as a police officer not as yourself. Any kind of preconceptions or notions that you had before, you need to throw them out and leave them out because when you go there, that person is looking for compassion, for direction and leadership from you.”
To contact Arlington’s GLLU or for more information, call 703-228-4389 or visit www.arlingtonva.us.