Last week, I began to blog about the meeting with the Zone 5 Police Commander which followed a gay bashing in Highland Park. I want to pick up and finish the post.

One of the issues raised by the victim, was about how uncomfortable it was to go to the police station to make a report, and we spent a fair amount of time talking about this. First, you don’t have to go to the station to make a report, and most often, people don’t. But, if they do, it can be a very uncomfortable experience.

Let me start by stressing how important it is to file a complete police report. Without these reports, there is no quantitative way to show that there is a problem of violence against LGBTQ’s, or if there is a pattern of violence, so the police report is essential. Always file a police report, even for violent actions that might seem minor. It helps to build a paper trail. In the case of the Highland Park bashing, the victim wanted the report to list the incident as a hate crime, but the police report did not include anything to suggest it was except that the victim thought he was attacked because he was gay. If there are verbal slurs, or other signals to you, make sure these are included in the report.

Generally, when the police come out on a call they will file a report. If you call 911 while an act of violence is taking place, the police should make it a priority to get there as quickly as possible. Once they are there, ask and make sure they will file a report. If you call 911, after the fact- after any violence is already over- the police will come out, but the call is listed as a lower priority, and it may take longer for them to arrive. Sitting here, quietly at the computer, this makes sense to me, although in a moment when something has just happened and you have been victimized, I understand how all you want is for the police to be there as quickly as possible. The police will come to the scene of the crime, or they will come to your home for you to file a report.

Filing a Report at Persad

However, in our meeting, zone 5 commander Tom O’Connor committed to another way for you to file a report. Because of how uncomfortable t can be to go to the zone station, his officers will be happy to go to the Persad office, and collect the report there. Persad has rooms where a person can in private talk to the officer and allow the police to get a full report in a safe environment. This is, in my opinion, a big deal, and one of the best changes to come out of the meeting.

Good or Bad?

In my first post, I said there was one part of the meeting that I wasn’t as happy about, and I want to close this posting talking about it. In the case of the Highland Park bashing, the victim wanted the police to record it as a hate crime. He expressed that he had been harassed in the past, but at the time of the attack, there was nothing said or done to suggest that he was attacked because he was gay. so, to the police, there is nothing about this case that suggests it was a hate crime. On the one hand, I get this. The police need to go on the facts. It would be a scary place for everyone, if perceived intent was all that mattered. We need the police to go by the facts, and we need them to work hard to collect all of the facts. On the other hand, if you are a LGBT person and are subjected to frequent or occurring taunting or other actions, then this should be considered as part of the facts to be collected. The police action of taking only the facts can be itself perceived as not listening to the victim and the victim’s experience, although that isn’t their intention at all.

I’m told that some bands of kids (teens to early 20’s??) know that the penalty can be greater if the crime is a hate crime, and so they know to be silent or not give away their motives when bashing a gay or lesbian person. This can make it much harder for the victim to demonstrate that a bashing was a hate crime. Is this fair? Should the burden be on the victim to prove why she or he was victimized? I don’t know. While I see and value the police’s focus on collecting the facts, I also know that our LGBT shared experiences demonstrate that we are often singled out and victimized because of who we are, regardless of how easy it is for that to be seen in the actual bashing. This is not an easy one to sort out or solve. As long as it is seen as permissible by society as a whole to bash LGBT’s, this issue will continue.

How do the police both focus directly on the facts of the specific incident, and also take into account the past experiences of the victim as well as the LGBT community overall? This is not an easy one to sort out or solve. However, if a police officer comes to take a report, and you feel that she or he directly ignores evidence or facts, then that itself should also be reported. If you ever feel that a police officer doesn’t treat you acceptably, at least in zone 5, the commander wants to know about it, because he expects all of his officers to treat everyone with dignity, respect and the full attention of the law.

Next Steps

Folks on all sides of this issue are looking at next steps. Persad is actively working to understand how the city police, state patrol, and 911 each respond and understand the issues as they related to LGBT’s. For example, what one of these groups may say about hate crimes may differ from what you would hear from the others. Zone 5 commander O’Connor will continue to work to make sure that all residents, including LGBT’s are treated fairly, promptly and all cases receive adequate follow up so that as many bad guys as possible get caught. Patrick Dowd’s office too, remains committed to seeking solutions to these issues. and here I am posting, and will continue to post about these issues.

At one point, I felt that some form of large, community wide town forum to talk about LGBT/ Police interactions was a possible next step. I also see value in smaller types of gatherings where more fruitful dialogue can happen and everyone have a chance to be a part of the group and process. There are real issues to be dealt with, and there are myths and falsehoods to get sorted out, and if we want to get anywhere on the real issues, we need to be sure we know what they are, and the right people are taking steps to change those things. additionally, we need education of all involved parties to help dispel the myths and falsehoods.

We didn’t spend too much time talking about 911 in this meeting, partly because 911 is a county service, and the zone commander can’t directly impact what they do, and partly because focusing on the interactions of police and an LGBT victim was enough for this first meeting. But the issues with 911, are certainly something that demand further attention. For example, the 911 operator will tell the victim of a bashing to “stay where you are.” If this happens to be the site of the bashing, then that is probably the last thing this person wants to do- they want to get away to a safe place! This immediately starts the needed interactions between victim and law enforcement off on the wrong foot, and slows down the response time. The work Persad is doing may go a long way to improving the 911 side of these issues, but more meetings and actions may be needed.

The bashing in Bloomfield earlier this summer was a more brutal and violent attack, but little could be done to make sure that the police act appropriately because no police report was filed. For you, the reader, the single most important thing you can do is make sure to file a police report and make sure it contains all the relevant details.

What do you think makes sense for next steps? Leave a comment and give me your ideas.

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