Notes and Report-back from Council Hearing on Hate Crimes and Police Response

Four members of DCTC attended the DC City Council’s hearing on Hate Crimes and Police Response which took place (perhaps ironically) on November 20th, the Trans Day of Remembrance. The majority of the testimony presented, as well as the Councilmember’s questions, focused on whether MPD is sufficiently reporting, prosecuting and training officers about hate crimes. Many witnesses expressed outrage over the lack of community input into the new model for the Special Liaison Units and deep skepticism that the new SLUs will actually promote police accountability.

The Mayor’s office released its report on bias-motivated crimes in the District the night before the hearing, giving community representatives almost no time to review it. Notably, the report failed to mention crimes motivated by anti-trans bias despite the fact that DC’s hate crimes law includes gender identity and expression. This glaring omission left many wondering whether the police and mayor’s office are taking seriously incidents of violence against LGB and particularly trans people.

DCTC’s testimony called the Council to adopt strategies to address hate crime which support restorative justice and are focused on helping vulnerable communities get out of harms’ way. We suggested a few concrete steps the Council could take, such as (1) mandating training for District agencies like MPD and the Department of Corrections which have a history of perpetrating violence against trans people, (2) ending policies like the Prostitution Free Zones which only increase the likelihood that trans people will encounter violence, and (3) restoring funding to vital organizations like THE that help underserved trans people get out of precarious living situations that put them at higher risk for hate violence.

Most media coverage of the hearing focused on the recent scandal over the GLLU restructuring. While this is an important issue, we would like to see increased dialog about ways to fight hate violence that will help prevent such crimes from happening in the first place, rather than only relying on police to respond to them, and which center the needs of survivors and their friends, family and communities.

Below the cut, please find a complete summary of the hearing and the testimony presented.

DCTC Hearing Notes

DC Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary

Hearing on Hate Crimes and Police Response

10:00am, Friday, November 20, 2009

DC Councilmember and committee chair Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) called this hearing as a follow-up to a similar hearing in late 2008 on the occurrence of hate crimes in DC and on responses by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).  Mendelson was particularly concerned by community outcry following MPD’s restructuring of its special liaison units, including the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), and this topic dominated much of the hearing.  Several members of the DC LGBT community testified at the hearing, including Alison Gill from DCTC.  (Watch Alison’s testimony or read our full statement.)  Below are highlights from some of the other statements.

Kris Baumann (Chairman, Fraternal Order of Police) expressed disagreement with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier’s model of community policing, and have been given no rationale for GLLU’s disbandment.  By allowing the centralized GLLU to atrophy, there is no mechanism left for community feedback or responding to community concerns.  There are serious doubts about whether or not the new “affiliated” GLLU members will be allowed to respond to calls throughout the District.

Chris Farris (Co-chair, DC GLOV) noted that there was no apparent succession plan in place since Sgt. Brett Parson stepped down as head of the special liaison units.  Since his departure, no information has been provided to community members about hate crimes that are being investigated or being reported.

Amy Loudermilk (Co-chair, Rainbow Response Coalition) pointed out that 75%  of GLLU calls were related to domestic violence, but the new training program for GLLU affiliated officers makes no mention of this fact.  In addition, MPD does not collect data related to LGBT domestic violence cases.  GLLU training used to cover these issues, including ways to determine the primary aggressor in domestic violence calls.  In addition, first responding officers do not have to defer to GLLU determinations in these cases, which often leads to both parties being arrested and incarcerated.

Peter Rosenstein (local activist) pointed out that dismantling GLLU undercuts both MPD’s claim to believe in community policing, as well as community trust in MPD.  In addition, the current GLLU restructuring has no mechanisms in place to hold affiliated officers accountable.

Cathy Lanier (Chief, Metropolitan Police Department) presented hostile and defensive testimony claiming that the city wanted to get the most recent hate crimes data out to the public before the hearing (it was released by the mayor’s office the day before at approximately 4:30pm), and noted that she could not expand any of the liaison units without effecting the overall force.  She argued that GLLU was neither being disbanded nor expanded, but rather she was creating a mechanism for someone from the unit to be available to respond at all times.  Lanier faced significant questioning from Mendelson and Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At large).   In response to questions, Lanier noted that two community meetings were held on training for the GLLU affiliate officers, and alluded to “several” other meetings held on possibilities for restructuring GLLU since 2007.  She also noted that it is hard to recruit officers to serve full-time in the specialized units, which required a rethinking of the strategy.  When asked whether or not community pushback was unpersuasive, Lanier claimed that community activists were out of touch with the broader LGBT community, including several individuals who face difficulty accessing GLLU services in the current model.

At this juncture, Lanier departed and left Assistant Chiefs Diane Groomes and Peter Newsham to take questions.  Topics covered included MPD’s outreach plan for GLLU once affiliated officers are trained, the purpose of meetings of the city’s Bias Crimes Task Force, and whether or not the Fair and Inclusive Policing Task Force still exists.

Sampson McCormick (Metropolitan Network Against Homophobia) expressed that action needs to be taken to disallow gay/trans panic defenses.  He also recounted an experience of street harassment in which the police officers who answered the call let the attackers go, and insisted that GLLU did not exist anymore.  He called for proper training programs throughout MPD.

Julius Agers (trans activist) pointed out that communication between the community and MPD is often lacking, and called for the creation of a trans liaison within MPD.

Philip Eure (Executive Director, Office of Police Complaints) outlined a September report by the Police Complaints Board that investigated under-reporting of hate crimes.  He suggested that the Bias Crimes Task Force be strengthened and that the Fair and Inclusive Policing Task Force be reinstated to keep a community check on problems with bias-related police behavior.

Patricia Riley (Special Council, U.S. Attorney’s Office for DC) faced significant questioning related to how few prosecutions there have been under the District’s bias crimes act.

2 thoughts on “Notes and Report-back from Council Hearing on Hate Crimes and Police Response

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