Yesterday representatives from DCTC, Transgender Health Empowerment, GLOV, Rainbow Response, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, GetEqual DC, and Jobs with Justice met with Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier and other high-level police officials to discuss our communities’ ongoing concerns over recent violence against LGBTQ people and MPD’s relationship with community organizations. In an over 2-hour meeting, we covered a number of issues, with a particular attention to violence perpetrated against trans people by both city residents and police officers. It’s been more than five years since Lanier met with such a broad group, but sadly we haven’t seen much progress in that time — and indeed some problem areas have gotten worse.
The organizations involved went in with a united front, committed to discuss the following issues:
- Crisis Communication After Violent Crimes – Last year, MPD set up an LGBTQ Critical Incident Team, which includes a representative from DCTC, to be kept up to date on violence against our communities. However, recent violence has revealed that MPD has no real protocol for quickly relaying information to that team, which in turn can’t effectively relay accurate information to community members. We sought clear commitments to correct this severe oversight.
- Improving Reporting and Statistics – MPD’s data on bias crimes in DC is notably unreliable. An initial look at the numbers shows that 2011 is far more violent than previous years, but MPD has also been trying to improve reporting. We also seek more transparency on getting crimes classified as bias related.
- Biased Policing – We have ample evidence that MPD officers are not complying with existing policies regarding interactions with trans people. In particular, Prostitution Free Zones (which we call Trans Profiling Zones) and other anti-sex work initiatives make trans women of color especially susceptible to arrest, with very little probable cause. The proportion of unsolved cases involving violent attacks on trans people is staggering. Additionally, the recent incident involving an attack on five lesbian women in Columbia Heights, where the responding officers failed to even file a report, shows that bias against LGBTQ people may be widespread in the police force.
- The Present and Future of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) – Two years ago, Lanier introduced an affiliate officer program for all of MPD’s Special Liaison Units, including GLLU. The core units (there are four) are all smaller than they once were, but their work is theoretically supplemented by 46 GLLU affiliate officers who have received additional training and are dispersed through the seven police districts. Yet the distinction between full-time and affiliate GLLU officers is unclear, and there has been a marked decline in GLLU outreach initiatives and participation in local events.
- Training, Training, Training – Community organizations, including DCTC, conduct the trainings for the liaison unit affiliate officers, and we have trained 124 officers since June 2010. However, there are over 4,000 MPD officers, and we need to make sure that all officers are getting at least minimal, community-generated training on LGBTQ issues. Additionally, MPD’s requests for training are considerably labor intensive for community volunteers, and no compensation is offered for those volunteers’ time and expertise.
In spite of our rather sweeping agenda, we unfortunately didn’t get very far. Chief Lanier may have been listening to our concerns, but she may not have necessarily heard them. Her commitments to us were rather small, but, significantly, she did agree to hold a follow-up meeting in two months to gauge progress. Here’s what we could extract from her:
- MPD will release statistics on disciplinary actions against police officers, including for incidents of biased policing.
- Lanier ensured that communications between GLLU and the Critical Incident Team will improve, and promised disciplinary action if it does not.
- Detectives investigating crimes against LGBTQ people will offer GLLU’s services to victims, and will make sure that relevant community organizations are informed about the incident.
- Lanier directed that updates be provided on the status of investigations on the murders of trans people over the last several years.
- MPD will provide a daily update on crimes and incidents affecting LGBTQ communities, Latin@ communities, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities via its Special Liaison Unit listserv.
It is clear to us that we still have plenty of work to do to ensure a safer community. On paper, MPD has some of the most progressive LGBQ and trans policies in the nation, thanks to many years of activism and engagement. Indeed, most of the policy recommendations on policing accompanying the National Transgender Discrimination Survey include steps we’ve already taken in DC. That said, making sure MPD lives up to those high standards remains an ongoing priority.