The number of hate crimes dealt with by the Washington, D.C. police department has gone up 24-fold since it founded a gay and lesbian liaison unit in 2000. This has been due to the increased reporting of these crimes to the department, said Sgt. Brett Parson, commander of the Washington, D.C. Police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
With the formation of a similar unit in late April, the Arlington Police Department hopes for a similar increase in gay community cooperation with the police, said Loreann Grimes, team coordinator for the new Gay and Lesbian Liaison Team. “We will hopefully open a door that had not been opened up before.”
“I think this unit will help educate Arlingtonians in ways that we haven’t been able to in the past,” said Kris McLaughlin, president of the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
While Grimes suggested the team to her superiors a year ago, it was only founded on April 28. The team has seven officers. About half of them are gay or lesbian, Grimes said.
The proportion of Arlington’s population who is homosexual is the fifth highest of any county in the country, Grimes said. However, many homosexuals have not been comfortable reporting crimes to the Arlington police. In the last few years some have reported the crimes to the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit and these reports have been relayed to the Arlington police.
The homosexual community will hopefully be more willing to report crimes to the new Arlington unit, Grimes said.
The unit hopes to achieve many other things, Grimes said. It will educate the remainder of the roughly 340 officer police force about gay and lesbian law enforcement issues. It will do community outreach and serve as a contact for schools dealing with gay/lesbian law enforcement issues. It will train the gay and lesbian communities in self-defense and crime prevention.
But it will also go far beyond communicating and educating to also investigating and solving crimes involving gays and lesbians.
Some of the crimes Grimes said she expected the unit to cover would be domestic abuse, drug dealing in clubs, prostitution and homicides.
For the time being, member officers will work for the team on a part-time basis. For the rest of the time they will continue as the “road officers” they have always been, Grimes said.
The D.C. Police’s formation of a gay and lesbian liaison unit has greatly benefited the police department’s operations, Parson said. Before its formation many homosexuals felt that the police “disrespected” them, Parson said. “We have heard time and time again from people that prior to our being formed, people wouldn’t contact the police because they didn’t trust the police.”
Though the general homosexual community is most excited by the D.C. unit’s work against “gay-bashing” incidents, most of its work is on crimes of homosexuals against other homosexuals, Parson said.
Because of the unit’s work, D.C. homosexuals trust the rest of the police department more, Parson said.
The success of the D.C. team has led to Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government naming it a finalist for an innovations in government award, Parson said.
Regarding Arlington’s formation of its own team, Parson said, “I think this is an incredibly overdue step for Arlington. I think its an incredibly forward-thinking step for Arlington.”
The Arlington police’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Team is the first such police team in Virginia, Grimes said.