Politics: How the GLLU Made Nice With Some DC Activists
This series has explored the history of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) of Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and evaluated the chances of the GLLU regaining the visibility and activity it had before a 2009 restructuring plan.
A New Relationship
There was a more extensive training in June 2010 that focused on affiliate GLLU officers, who received three days of training from the activists: two days in the classroom, going over LGBT issues, and then a day of visits to LGBT institutions in Washington, DC. Then there were one day trainings on LGBT issues for all Special Liaison Unit officers, one in November 2010, and one in December. DCTC’s Jason Terry didn’t attend the December session, but recalled, “After the December training, a couple of my colleagues were sort-of like, ‘We’re a little iffy on whether we trust these folks to go on the street.’”
GLOV’s Kelly Pickard noted, “I think it is imperative that the trainings be seen as a safe space for officers to ask whatever questions they might have–no matter how misinformed or misguided they may be. As discouraging as certain comments or questions might be for us as members of the community to hear, asking them and getting them out in the open is a critical aspect of the training. I don’t want to risk violating the trust we have built by calling out any particular incidents. Generally speaking, there have been comments and questions that underscore the need for more widespread and in depth training on LGBT issues.”
I asked Sgt. Mejia about the mixed quality of the trainings (the first was characterized poorly by Terry and others, while the following trainings were better received), and the notion that some officers might not have been ready to go on the street as GLLU officers. He replied, “The SLU trainings that have been conducted over the last [two] years are the first of their kind on the Metropolitan Police Department and are probably the first of their kind nation wide…. [This] training also allows a forum in which difficult questions can be asked and answered…. Each time we give a training, it provides MPD and our LGBT community partners an opportunity to improve on the prior training curriculum.”
Complications aside, the activists with the most access to the MPD have, from 2010 and into the present, developed a functional relationship with the new GLLU, and the MPD. Once a month, representatives from DCTC, GLOV, and other organizations–who, as previously mentioned, form something known as the “Critical Incident Team”–get to meet with the GLLU (including Sgt. Mejia), and other government officials. The government people give the activists information on hate crimes, and the group discusses policy issues. In early February, for example, Cathy Lanier gave the activists new hate crimes figures for 2010 (which were up from 2009).
It’s not exactly the arrangement that activists had with the MPD during the Parson years, but–given the animosity that met the restructuring plan in 2009–this is a step toward a more functional, mutually-beneficial MPD-LGBT community relationship.
GLOV’s Pickard said of this new cooperation, “I do think there has been a tremendous effort within the GLLU and SLU–particularly within the last [six] to [nine] months–to really engage community groups in more of a partnership to address the issue of bias crimes in the [D]istrict…. Captain [Edward] Delgado [the supervisor of the SLU] and Sergeant Mejia, in particular, deserve a lot of credit for listening to our criticisms and working with us to coming up with ways to provide the information we feel we need to be effectively engaged.”
Jason Terry said, “We’ve developed a good relationship with Carlos and Captain Delgado. I think they’re good people. They’re pro-active.”
In December 2010, a transgender woman named Chloe Moore alleged being beaten by an MPD officer. After that, Terry told Sgt. Mejia to focus on the Moore case at a meeting of the Critical Incident Team. “[T]hey had no problem with that,” Terry recalled. “We had a good 45 minutes of dialogue just on that case. Carlos said, ‘I have a meeting with the Chief at the end of the week. What do you want me to say to her? What do you want me to recommend?’ And I thought it was great.”
Some of the long-standing complaints that activists have had with the MPD, even through the Parson era, are now getting addressed. Sgt. Mejia is “auditing” hate crime reporting, to see if the MPD missed any crimes in its original reporting of numbers over the last few years. Through this audit, Sgt. Mejia found out that at least one police district–the Third District, inclusive of Shaw and Petworth in the East, Upper Columbia Heights in the North, Adams Morgan in the West and Logan Circle in the South–didn’t report hate crimes properly. That district is being trained to improve its recording practices.
There have also been anecdotal reports that, in instances where sex workers–many of them transgender–are victimized, officers are treating them more humanely. Said Terry, the MPD is “recognizing that a sex worker can be a victim instead of a criminal.”
Sgt. Mejia said, “Engaging in prostitution, soliciting prostitution, pandering and human trafficking are criminal…offenses, but the Police [D]epartment recognizes that there are people involved in sex work that have either been coerced or forced into the lifestyle or engage in it for survival. Sex work is not a victimless crime and victimization occurs on many levels.”
Nevertheless, some in the LGBT community have yet to see any positive change. Jeri Hughes is an activist with Transgender Health Empowerment (THE). While THE has members on the Critical Incident Team, Hughes is not one of them. She said of current police efforts, “MPD is once again establishing itself as on oppressor and an enemy to the transgender community. Unwarranted police stops and frivolous charges under outdated and overly broad ‘indecent’ statutes. Efforts targeting prostitution are always at street level, where the most vulnerable women operate based on sheer necessity in an attempt to survive.”
Clearly, the GLLU has yet to build trust with all members of the LGBT community.
Problems Yet to Be Solved
Critical Incident Team members like Jason Terry have access to Sgt. Mejia and the GLLU, but the Team is still a small group of people. News received by Team members doesn’t necessarily spread. Jeri Hughes said of the current state of the GLLU, “Who do I call if I want to discuss issues about the transgender community and MPD? Who in the MPD or GLLU has created trust and exhibited commitment since Brett is gone? No one…. GLLU needs a leader, and Mayor Gray and Lanier have yet to find, or search, for one. Especially anyone sensitive to the discrimination and abuse faced by the local transgender community.”
While I didn’t mention specific complaints like Hughes’ to Sgt. Mejia, I asked him how he responded to criticism that he and the GLLU just don’t get out in the community like the unit of old did. Sgt. Mejia replied, “To say that members of the GLLU are not ‘out in the community’ represents a lack of understanding of the scope of the work that the GLLU does. The GLLU like all the Special Liaison Units are citywide units. Members of these units deploy to all quadrants of the city on all tours to respond to the needs of their respective communities. While there are areas of the city that are well known LGBT cultural and resource hubs, there are many areas that are not major culture hubs, yet still require the GLLU’s service. Members of the GLLU deploy throughout the city in response to crime trends, community needs and departmental needs.”
If the GLLU hasn’t quite met its mission since the 2009 restructuring, Joe Montoni, the other Co-Chair of GLOV, suggested that a lack of resources has been a problem. Said Montoni, “[U]ntil recently, the GLLU was not given sufficient resources or authority to meet its mission.” Explaining the ‘authority’ point further, Montoni said, “I think that we need a GLLU that is fully staffed with a lead who has the authority to report directly to the Chief of Police.”
GLOV’s Kelly Pickard explained that activists need to focus on other government institutions, too, if hate crimes, biased policing, and other public safety problems faced by the LGBT community are to be solved. “It’s also important to note that while an engaged and resourced GLLU is critical–it is only part of the solution to combating bias crimes against the LGBT community,” Pickard said. “Quite frankly, the underlying issues within this city that shape and reinforce the biases which lead to violence require more than just a policing effort to combat. It’s the MPD, Metro Transit, churches, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, schools, community groups, and the government.”
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