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Edward D. Reuss
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By Karen L. Bune

National and global communities share similar needs, and there are specific issues inherent to these groups.  Communities are commonly comprised of diverse individuals representative of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds or those may have a sexual orientation other than one of heterosexuality.

Law enforcement agencies should be attuned to the issues and needs within their jurisdictions, and they must adapt to conditions that present themselves.  In Washington, D. C., the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has done just that.  Recognizing the diversity of the city’s population, MPD has developed liaison units to meet the critical needs of specific communities.  Among them include an Asian, Latino, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU).

This article will focus specifically on the GLLU and will discuss the development of the unit, its goals and accomplishments, and will identify steps that other law enforcement agencies can engage to develop their own units within their communities.

The GLLU began in 1999 at the suggestion of two Lesbian officers who supported their proposal with statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report that revealed hate/bias crimes for a jurisdiction the size and diversity of Washington, D. C. were not being reported; only two hate/bias related crimes were noted.  In contrast, the neighboring jurisdictions, Maryland and Virginia, had a significantly higher rate of reported crimes—Maryland reported 282 and Virginia reported 160. Consequently, the officers believed that an increase in reporting would result if police officers were educated about the community and, at the same time, if the relationship between the department and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersexed, and Allied communities was strengthened.

With the support of Chief Charles Ramsey and political officials, the unit was officially created in June 2000. During its inception, the two Lesbian officers who represented the lowest positions within the department’s rank structure had a difficult time maintaining momentum and focus; other outside matters required their time and attention as well.

In June 2001, the two Lesbian officers met with former Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer and expressed their frustration and concern over the lack of progress within the unit. (Note: Gainer is currently chief of the United States Capitol Police). They indicated to Gainer that in order for the unit to succeed, some changes needed to be made; they suggested that an openly gay male with rank should be appointed to the position. Following their discussion with Gainer, Chief Ramsey appointed Sgt. Brett Parson to the unit. Parson, an openly gay male cop with rank had been on the force seven years at the time. Reflectively, Sgt. Parson comments, “Terry Gainer would not kill the unit.  Gainer was very supportive”.

Once Parson arrived, things changed dramatically within the unit. At Parson’s request, the unit was provided cars, cell phones, and pagers.  He immediately decided that officers within the GLLU would not stay in the office and only appear in the community when things went wrong.

Parson recognized the need for officers within the unit to be proactive and get out into the community and meet people.  He says, “We are talking about getting back to basics but not getting stuck in the same old rut….basic community policing but not doing the same old thing.”

The GLLU is unique in that it is the only unit that merges community relations with law enforcement. Sgt. Parson admits, “it is everywhere in the community”. Initially, the vision was outreach, but Sgt. Parson recognized the need for the unit to not only engage in community outreach but to investigate, train, and educate as well as engage in law enforcement duties including street level patrol and investigations.  Parson states, “We had no idea what we were doing but we did it”.

The unit has been an incredible success, and Sgt. Parson acknowledges the biggest and most difficult obstacle has been “walking a tightrope between advocates for the community and enforcers—a parental role”.  He points out that the police officer in the community can be perceived as a hypocrite, Uncle Tom, or an infiltrator. However, he acknowledges the reason for the success of the unit has been the fact that, as he states, “we’ve been honest about it.”  As a result, the unit has built a high level of trust within the community and has a 98% closure rate on cases in which it is involved.

Sgt. Parson advocates treating those in the community with respect but advises them if they are caught doing something illegal, they will be arrested. Over 75% of crimes in the GLLU community are alcohol-related. Various crimes occur including hate/bias, sex crimes, domestic violence, and homicides. Some crimes may be tied into the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) community even if the victim is not gay. For example, a man killed his baby (shaken baby syndrome), and he went to a gay bar to watch the news. Members of the GLBT community noticed him in the bar, and they called the police which demonstrated that trust and good relationships with the police had evolved.

Since formation of the unit, Chief Ramsey states, “Rarely, rarely have there been any complaints….we’ve gone full cycle in terms of their complaints”. He notes the Metropolitan Police Department is “a police department that responds to their issues.”

What can other departments do to establish a unit in their communities based on the success of the GLLU in the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D. C.?

First, they must identify their community. What is the community? Often, there is denial that the community exists.  Thus, a commitment from the top is needed.  A key factor concerning outreach is for a police department to know the population it is dealing with.  Secondly, it is important to establish contact and build the community into the process. It is critical that such a unit must not be superficial. Members of the community must be invited to more than one meeting with police. They should be asked what they need and what resources would be beneficial. It is important to get them involved in community and law enforcement issues. Third, it is necessary to dismantle the stereotypes related to cops; this is the crux of the unit. It is important for members of the GLLU to assimilate in the community and have one-on-one contact. Fourth, it is vital to have community investment.  For example, the community can develop the content of brochures and pass them out in their locality.  Fifth, the problem must be identified. It is essential to focus on the issue that affects the community that is in direct control of the police. Thus, the problems need to be clearly articulated, and everyone has to acknowledge them. Sixth, what is causing the problem? Causation must be identified and narrowed to:  (a) training—general education of the public and (b) the relationship between law enforcement and the GLLU community.  The key focus is to consider two issues---how to better train the police and train the community.  They must go hand-in-hand—build trust, educate the community, and educate officers about the community.

Seventh, choice of leadership for the unit is an important consideration.  The perception of community relations is important and requires a leader with experience.  In the MPD’s GLLU unit, the choice of Sgt. Parson has been effective because he is an experienced gay male officer of rank, and most of the issues in the GLBT community have been from gay men.

Sgt. Parson recognizes the critical necessity of establishing bona fide partnerships. He emphasizes the importance of making acquaintances with one another and building relationships.  He reveals an integral component in developing partnerships is to go to everyone and say, “When would you like me to be there”? Parson elaborates, “Don’t ask, can I come”? He advocates that his staff attend community meetings with a request to be heard or he suggests they attend meetings and just listen. Parson believes, “when you hear an idea-- instead of thinking why it won’t work-- make it work”.

Parson continues to be an effective leader of the unit.  Chief Ramsey acknowledges, “Brett has gotten a lot of response. He has done a lot for the unit”.   Parson understands the community wants to play a part in the selection of the liaisons within the unit.  Therefore, he has community members and police officers choose the staff. Sgt. Parson has openly transgendered individuals, prostitutes, street people, and a gay council member as part of the group who participates in the decision-making process.

The GLLU expanded in August 2003.  The staff of the unit currently consists of twelve people total—four full-time officers, four part-time officers, and four civilian auxiliary members. Though support from politicians is important for a unit of this type, it is not essential. Sgt. Parson comments, “The community will take care of it”.  Though Parson acknowledges money is a challenge, and there is no line item in the police department budget or any discretionary funds, a great deal of their support for various items and initiatives come from the community. Salaries for Parson’s unit are paid out of the Operations Command.

In November 2004, the GLLU staff moved to a freestanding office located in DuPont Circle—an area within the District of Columbia that represents the GLBT culture. The Metropolitan Police Department’s GLLU formed a partnership with Sun Trust Bank, and the unit is housed in the basement of the bank building and has offices, a classroom, and meeting space. The move has generated a need for additional staffing to meet the increasing needs of the community.

Since its establishment, the GLLU has accomplished a great deal, and many communities could benefit from the development of a similar unit.  The GLLU is an exemplary model that other departments throughout the nation and the world can emulate. Chief Ramsey reinforces the notion when he comments, “I would urge any police chief who has a need to develop a unit to do so” and says it results in “huge dividends”.  The proactive, dedicated efforts of Sgt. Parson and his unit have proven that indifference to issues within the GLBT community is no longer a reality and that a unit of this type can have lasting impact.

Copyright © 2005 Karen L. Bune

***Karen L. Bune is a Victim Specialist/Legal Assistant in the domestic violence unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County, Maryland.  She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and she is a national consultant and speaker on victim issues.  She is a Fellow of the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and is Board Certified in domestic violence. She can be reached at Kbune@gmu.edu


 The NYPD is fortunate to have a line organization of openly gay and lesbian police officers.   The Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) http://www.goalny.org/   It would be a simple matter to organize a unit similar to the Metropolitan Police Department’s

Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU)
.  http://www.gaydc.net/gllu/about/index.htm



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