Create LGBTQ units inside police departments


Credit: Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire, via AP and MLive Media

It’s dangerous to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer in America. As numerous statistics warn us, LGBTQ people in this country are subjected to horrific violence, hate crimes, and harassment at troubling rates — a grim reality again brought into the national headlines by the shooting massacre in an Orlando gay nightclub this summer. At the same time, such statistics are likely understating the crimes committed against LGBTQ people because victims, distrusting the police or fearing for their lives and livelihoods, may be reluctant to come forward. As a result, that dilemma undermines justice for the victims and threatens public safety overall as perpetrators go free.

One approach taken by Washington, D.C. is worth a closer look as a model for possible replication by other jurisdictions. As the Philadelphia Citizen explains, the city government isn’t just reaching out to the LGBTQ community. It established the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU)—a unit within the police department dedicated to these especially vulnerable residents:

D.C.’s GLLU, headed by Police Sergeant Jessica Hawkins, who is transgender, was established in the late 1990s, after two lesbian officers saw the need and advocated for it. “Hate crimes were being dramatically underreported,” Hawkins says. “The idea was to let the LGBT community know we’re available and to get rid of fear of police inside the community.”

Besides Hawkins, the GLLU has five core officers, and two affiliate officers who rotate through on a temporary basis. GLLU officers identify “hot spots” based on trends in crimes against LGBTQ people and saturate those areas, much like how Philadelphia law enforcement uses GunStat to focus their efforts on the places where data shows the most shootings occur. They also respond to crimes involving the LGBTQ community, assisting in the investigation, offering support to victims and helping to arrange hospital care. They respond to crimes of all seriousness, from murder to burglary. They are a small unit and can’t make it to every scene, Hawkins admits, but they follow up after the fact on all LGBTQ-related crimes.

Is it working? In 2006, Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation recognized D.C.’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit as a promising government model. In the award notice, the university noted these successes:

By combining these community poling approaches, the GLLU has had a significant effect on the safety of the gay community in the D.C. Metropolitan area. First off, the establishment of the GLLU has led to the recognition of same-sex domestic violence. In 2000, no same-gender domestic violence cases were investigated. As of August 2005, GLLU members had investigated over 300 cases of domestic violence. This change was due both to more MPD officers trained to understand the dynamics of same-sex relationships, and the assignment of a GLLU officer to guide the victims through the criminal justice system. In addition, the presence of reliable sources within the gay community has resulted in a homicide case closure within the GLLU exceeding 95%. But perhaps the program’s most compelling indication of success is that in 2005, 52 hate crimes against the gay community were reported, suggesting that much of the city’s gay community now views the D.C. Metropolitan Police as a trusted ally.

It’s a model that other city governments should follow and consider creating for themselves. For more information, see “Ideas We Should Steal: Gay And Lesbian Liaison Police Unit,” The Philadelphia Citizen (2015); “Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit,” Harvard University (2006).