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A different mission to serve
April 3, 2005 10:11 AM   Subscribe

A Different Mission to Serve. The Washington Post (reg. required) is running a short series of mini-video documentaries of Sgt. Brett Parson, the head of the DC Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
posted by XQUZYPHYR (32 comments total)

 
Okay, I for one didn't know that there was a LGBT liason unit. I don't want to say "shouldn't they be solving real crimes?" but DC is such a wreck that, well, shouldn't they be solving real crimes?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:28 AM on April 3, 2005


real crimes happen to LGBT people too, TDDL, and they have a different relationship with police than other groups do.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:32 AM on April 3, 2005


real crimes happen to LGBT people too

Yes, they happen to whites, blacks, asians, mexicans, gays, straights, native americans, conservatives, liberals, centrists, anarchists, and totalitarians. Each of those groups has a "different relationship" with the police. But, when your city is having trouble providing basic social services it seems like a strange priority to spend money building outreach groups for each niche group.

I mean, are there special laws that apply to LGBT people? In the DC area (to my knowledge) there's no particular bad history between the cops and the queer community. Nor (again to my knowledge) were there laws persecuting gays specifc to DC. What, other than a general sense of "difference" justifies spending the money on this project rather than basic social services?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:38 AM on April 3, 2005


I don't want to say "shouldn't they be solving real crimes?" but DC is such a wreck that, well, shouldn't they be solving real crimes?

Considering the films were documenting Sgt. Parson's police work, as well as his activities in training seminars for the DC Police to help them better serve the community (for example, explaining how same-sex domestic disturbances should be handled so they, how did you put it- can solve real crimes), I'm gonna take a wild guess and assume you didn't even bother to watch the videos, did you.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:49 AM on April 3, 2005


But, when your city is having trouble providing basic social services it seems like a strange priority to spend money building outreach groups for each niche group.

You have something of a point there, but this has practical value as well as PR value. If the LGBT community (which is fairly large in DC, IIRC) trusts the police force, they're more likely to co-operate and share information with them, which is vital to crime solving. If they see them as enemies, not so much.
posted by jonmc at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2005


In DC there's also an Asian Liaison Unit, a Latino Liaison Unit, and a Deaf & Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit, among others.
posted by armage at 10:54 AM on April 3, 2005


I'm gonna take a wild guess and assume you didn't even bother to watch the videos, did you.

Blocked at work, sorry.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:56 AM on April 3, 2005


In Vancouver, the Aaron Webster killing brought attention to the need to provide policing for LGBT people. Webster was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, a pool cue, and a golf club by people who didn't know him but suspected he was gay (which he was).

Attacks like this are "hate crimes" by definition. Not only are they common, but the typical police relationship with the gay community needs to be fixed. Gay people are reluctant to deal with the cops because historically the authorities have treated them as criminals.

I see LGBT liaison as an "outreach" initiative, one that may only have a temporary value while that particular police< -> citizen relation gets fixed. Beyond that, I think it's best dealt with by whatever police unit deals with hate crimes.
posted by 327.ca at 10:57 AM on April 3, 2005


In DC there's also an Asian Liaison Unit, a Latino Liaison Unit, and a Deaf & Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit, among others.

And again, this about practical concerns, not TV multiculturalism. If you have cops who can speak sign language, you can interview a deaf witness, and when you reach out to communities that might be distrustful of outsiders, they're more likely to be good sources of information. I'm more opposed to ostentatious gestures of pseudo-pluralism than anyone, but this is just good sense and good police work.
posted by jonmc at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2005


Despite some creeping detective cliché and a few rounds with unnecessary sensationalism, this was a really well done article.

As far as the losing resources to cater to this niche argument, had you read the article you would have read that there are groups within the force that focus on some of those other social groups " The D.C. police department has a Latino Liaison Unit, an Asian Liaison Unit and a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Unit, but unlike the other specialized squads, the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit deals with the half-truths and complexities of sexuality."

What makes them different? Gays are different because they still endure a disapproving society, who will spend more time thinking about them being gay than them being the victim of a crime. Having the force allows the victims to know that they are not being judged, that they are being protected by someone who isn't thinking "gahdamn sodomite" while taking their report.

Accept it or not, gays are treated differently and many have to shield who they are to those around them.

It's about this time when I start wondering why I am responding your comment TDDD (I'm going to believe that when you called it the "queer community" you did it without a sneer), but again, the article mentions incidents where the DC police were exploiting the gay community, prejudiced, or mildly abusive.

These officers still do police work, it isn't like the money is going to waste. What is happening is there is a force that has a specialization, just like homicide or vice cops, they are trained in a specialization. Specifically to deal with handling crimes that befall gay, this isn't a waste of resources, they would be receiving police wages regardless, this way those officers are going to be able to do a better job by focusing on a particular battery of issues.
posted by herting at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2005


Specifically to deal with handling crimes that befall gay, this isn't a waste of resources

But, and this is only a tangential concern, gay people can be victims of ordinary crimes just like anyone else. If a gay person gets mugged or has his pocket picked, it isn't a hate crime, and shouldn't be treated as such.

But I think an "outreach," is diffrent from a hate crimes squad in that it's more about building trust for good future relations.
posted by jonmc at 11:05 AM on April 3, 2005


When seeing the headling on Washingtonpost.com, my initial reaction was a bit like devil's. But then I read the article and realized that sometimes you have to go the extra mile to get information from a community that frequently relies on secrecy (especially the closeted types). From that standpoint it just seems like good management. (The police department already demonstrated that it can't manage tolerance system-wide after an incident in which a few bad cops blackmailed some gay people a few years back).

Also, if I remember correctly, at least half of the task force is decidedly straight. (There are four, and if I remember, at least two of them were straight.)
posted by bugmuncher at 11:09 AM on April 3, 2005


There are obviously still some "misperceptions" about gays - several I know don't even *own* a Village People cd. ;)

It's nice to see someone approach the issue in such a direct and tangible way.
posted by yoga at 11:11 AM on April 3, 2005


(heh, that's what I get for posting, then feeding the cat that was bugging me, then reading what I had posted...)

I was emphasizing the straightness of some of the officers to note that they didn't feel the need to populate such a task force with GLBTs, which is somewhat interesting.
posted by bugmuncher at 11:20 AM on April 3, 2005


I'm going to believe that when you called it the "queer community" you did it without a sneer

I live in San Francisco. My friends prefer that term right now instead of enumerating the vast possibilities (lesbian, gay, bi, transexual, transvestite, etc) for non-straight orientations. I don't know what the current PC term is back east, but it's definitely the most common catch-all term out here.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:58 AM on April 3, 2005


And maybe I am biased because I live in a place where people of many orientations are such a large community that it's hard to think about a place where secrecy and blackmail are relevant. If you ever go out in the Castro at night then you'll note that "breeders" are distinctly in the minority.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:00 PM on April 3, 2005


Thanks for the link, XQUZYPHYR. We had a popular gay policeman as a liason between the Philadelphia PD and the gayborhood who committed suicide some years ago. A transvestite died in mysterious circumstances under police custody not too long ago. How municipalities reach out to their constituents is always interesting...
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:28 PM on April 3, 2005


bugmuncher: But then I read the article and realized that sometimes you have to go the extra mile to get information from a community that frequently relies on secrecy (especially the closeted types).

Well, IMO the problems go both ways. It really needs to be remembered lesbigays have quite a few good reasons to mistrust law enforcement. Lesbigays sometimes find themselves the target of laws that would be rarely, if ever, applied to heterosexual interactions, and there is sometimes a bias in how cases are investigated and persued.

Perhaps community-based policing is just a buzword, but I would argue that we need a lot more police creating relationships to their community, and less speed traps.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:38 PM on April 3, 2005



Perhaps community-based policing is just a buzword,


No, but perhaps not in the way you'd imagine. I don't, for instance believe that only gay officers can interact constructively with the gay community, although having gay cops is a good thing. I say this a cop buff and a onetime aspiring policeman, my personal investigations into police work have taught me that familiarity and comfort with a wide variety of people and subcultures is essential to effective police work.
posted by jonmc at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2005


jonmc wrote, "I don't, for instance believe that only gay officers can interact constructively with the gay community, although having gay cops is a good thing."

Who said that was a necessity?
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:49 PM on April 3, 2005


Sgt. Parsons, from the video:
I will be happiest when this unit does not exist. How [expletive] crazy is that? Give up this good gig, and go back to working the streets where you should be. But to me, that's when we've suceeded. We've suceeded when people can look at this department and go "What the hell did they need a Gay and Lesbian Liason unit for? Look at this department. Everybody's embracing diversity. Everybody's respectful to everybody." We're not there yet.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:58 PM on April 3, 2005


Who said that was a necessity?

The "community-based policing" term that KJS used has often been used to imply that only blacks can police blacks etc.

No offense intended.
posted by jonmc at 1:09 PM on April 3, 2005


It seems prudent that the city has the service. But they would do well to find a leader that isn't an unapologetic advocate of police brutality.

And as for the article, it couldn't be any less subtle. It's pretty much written as a pitch for a movie that wouldn't play away from the coasts: "See, there's this borderline-rogue cop. But he just happens to be gay! Now let me hit you over the head with the fact that he's both hard-boiled and prefers the company of men! Tough! Gay! Tough! Gay! Tough, tough, tough! Gay, gay, gay!"

It would have been a lot more worthy of being in a newspaper if it told me more about the division and less about the definitely-so-not-a-stereotype character at the head of it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:10 PM on April 3, 2005


gay people can be victims of ordinary crimes just like anyone else. If a gay person gets mugged or has his pocket picked, it isn't a hate crime, and shouldn't be treated as such.

...and isn't, by DC. The GLBT unit is doing standard police work, relying on their additional training to be more effective at eliciting evidence about/from glbt victims, perpetrators, or witnesses--regardless of the type of crime. i.e.

...a white man in his fifties was found strangled in his apartment downtown. Nothing about the message signaled gay, but Parson was eight blocks away and decided to respond.

...There weren't the tell-tale signs, the photos, books or commemorative coffee cups from gay resort towns, but the lack of personal details made Parson think the victim led a secret life...

[He] found a woman who said she didn't want to gossip, but she had seen the victim bringing other men back to his apartment.

"Did the guys have gloves and bats? Were they part of a sports team?" Parson asked, playing dumb.

Not like that, the woman answered. Like this: She made a swishing motion with her wrist.

----

[A businessman], an Air Force veteran in creased pants, arrives at 9 p.m., looking thin and stressed as he carries a legal folder full of bank statements. He suspects that his domestic partner of seven years has embezzled more than $80,000 from his business....

[Parsons starts taking notes.] "Okay, what color are his eyes?"

The man pauses. "I don't know."

"Come on," Parson says, putting down his pen. "You stared into his [expletive] eyes for seven years!"

The man smiles and starts to relax....

He tells Parson he has a contract to provide lunches for schoolchildren...

"I gave my word I would feed these kids," he says.... [Yet] "It's hard because I still care for him."
DC isn't allocating scarce resources for the benefit of a few special interest groups, it's smartly creating pools of specialists who know how to catch clues that the generalists miss. The whole city benefits from improved crime-solving. Good on them.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:28 PM on April 3, 2005


I don't know, it's kind of refreshing not to see another Will and Grace-esque club boi thrown at the papers as the city's token fag cop. As Sgt. Parson points out, not all gay men are drag queens. Actually, it's a piece of reality being reported by the mainstream media. In hindsight, I'm amazed this made it to print.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:33 PM on April 3, 2005


I don't know, it's kind of refreshing not to see another Will and Grace-esque club boi thrown at the papers as the city's token fag cop. As Sgt. Parson points out, not all gay men are drag queens.

You know that, I know that, but to be fair dosen't the gay media often promote the opposite impression (perhaps to cater to a certain market, and probably with the tacit approval of the straight media). A cursory look at slef-proclaimed gay media would give you the impression that any gay man who presented himself as anything other than a swish or butch steretype is somehow in denial.
posted by jonmc at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2005


don't know, it's kind of refreshing not to see another Will and Grace-esque club boi thrown at the papers as the city's token fag cop.

I hear you, but Sgt. Parson is presented a another stereotype-- the tough, physical cop with a soft heart. Who candidly admits to cuffing people too tight and smacking suspects when they're mouthy to him.

Let's turn the tables here-- if this was a profile of a straight cop, many people would be focused on his violence and expressing loathing for him. I sure am-- an asshole cop is an asshole cop no matter their sexual orientation.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2005


I hear you, but Sgt. Parson is presented a another stereotype-- the tough, physical cop with a soft heart. Who candidly admits to cuffing people too tight and smacking suspects when they're mouthy to him.

In other words 100% cop, for better or worse. Who happens to be gay.
posted by jonmc at 2:46 PM on April 3, 2005


You know that, I know that, but to be fair dosen't the gay media often promote the opposite impression (perhaps to cater to a certain market, and probably with the tacit approval of the straight media). A cursory look at slef-proclaimed gay media would give you the impression that any gay man who presented himself as anything other than a swish or butch steretype is somehow in denial.

Depends what you read. Philadelphia Gay News and Baltimore's Gay Life are pretty even-handed, more about community than anything else. But then you get the glossies like Out and The Advocate, which seem hellbent on chasing the pink dollar with polished, beautiful gay celebrity lifestyle pieces.

Perhaps national publications need to be as bland and generic as possible to move units. Reporting local stuff would be too colorful (and real), would challenge assumptions and even make gays uncomfortable.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2005


I hear you, but Sgt. Parson is presented a another stereotype-- the tough, physical cop with a soft heart. Who candidly admits to cuffing people too tight and smacking suspects when they're mouthy to him.

I hear you too, but at least it isn't a gay stereotype. It wasn't like they painted a handlebar mustache on his face in post-production, or put him in leather chaps. It just seemed like a portrait of a real human being in a real job, and it seemed much less exploitative of his sexuality than it could have been.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:13 PM on April 3, 2005


A cursory look at slef-proclaimed gay media would give you the impression that any gay man who presented himself as anything other than a swish or butch steretype is somehow in denial.

As long as the look remains cursory, yes, that's what you'll see. But even just limited to tv, the self-proclamed gay media's portrayals are more diverse than that. See for instance In The Life, Queer As Folk and The L Word.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:22 PM on April 3, 2005


I saw this last week when it was linked on monkeyfilter. I didn't read the article because the way it was linked, I couldn't find an article. But I watched all the video.

I didn't see the "asshole cop" that Curley saw. What is he expecting, Henk Grijpstra?

The guy is a hero. This made me very happy.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:38 PM on April 3, 2005


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