William A. Johnson, Jr.

Rochester (NY) Police Department Liason with the Gay and Lesbian Community

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

Leadership within the Rochester Police Department (RPD) has have long recognized the importance of communicating and interacting with all segments of the community. In April 1998, Chief Robert J. Duffy appointed a liaison to the gay and lesbian community to reaffirm the importance of the liaison position and to create a more proactive approach to community issues.

The liaison provides a direct connection between law enforcement and the gay and lesbian community. Information regarding departmental policies and procedures, complaints and compliments for personnel, available employment opportunities, and crime prevention tips are among the services rendered to the community by the liaison. In the other direction, updated factual information regarding gay and lesbian culture are presented, through the liaison, to police personnel to ensure staff sensitivity.

This program is ongoing, year round. It can involve time spent during off-duty hours to maximize open communication and trust building.

2. When was the program created and why?

The Police Department historically has had a liaison to Rochester’s large gay and lesbian community. However, it was viewed as a reactive position rather than proactive. Shortly after Robert Duffy was appointed police chief, representatives of the gay and lesbian community asked him for a series of meetings to address such issues as sensitivity training, domestic violence, stereotyping, public lewdness, bias and hate related crimes and the role of the liaison. The goal of the meetings was to develop a deeper sense of the concerns and issues specific to gay and lesbian citizens.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

A proactive approach usually works to the benefit of the recipient because it can provide early detection of concerns, establish a greater lead time to address issues, and allow for open communication and trust between participants.

As a result of establishing a proactive liaison, RPD has been invited to present to such groups as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Transgenders. An invitation to participate in the annual Pride parade and festival proved beneficial. Hundreds of contacts were established. RPD now has regular column space in the gay and lesbian community’s monthly newspaper, The Empty Closet, to inform readers of upcoming events, crime prevention tips and editorial comments.

The increased openness among members of the gay and lesbian communities demonstrates increased trust in law enforcement. This trust is very much needed to improve the quality of life and reduce crime statistics within the community.

4. How is the program financed?

The program operates within the existing RPD budget since existing personnel can assume the role of liaison. The role itself does not warrant a full time employee or an additional employee, but rather utilizes the expertise of a current employee who can handle a diverse assignment.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

In 1998, the Rochester Police Department participated in the ninth annual Pride parade and festival. RPD provided a safe, enjoyable environment for families and friends of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, as evidenced by the record number of people (3,500) who took part. PFLAG invites the liaison to its monthly meeting to address crime prevention tips and ongoing harassment.

These are only a couple examples of contacts which open doors and make members of the gay and lesbian community feel heard and respected. It also makes the wider Rochester community more accepting of a diverse population.

6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

A police officer in good standing with the department and community and close to the administration—acting as a liaison—can help avert fear, and even tragedy, arising from misunderstanding, miscommunication and prejudice. The liaison may also play an important interdepartmental role in dealing with the concerns of gay and lesbian police officers.

7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

A. Provide mandatory diversity and sensitivity training for all personnel.

B. Stand behind legislation that protects the civil rights of all.

C. Publicly state your opposition to racism and hate crimes.

D. Appoint a trusted, sensitive, open employee to serve as a liaison.

E. Get involved in community events, activities, and education.

For more information, please contact:

Chief Robert J. Duffy
Rochester Police Department
150 Plymouth Avenue South
Rochester, New York 14614
Telephone: (716) 428-7033

Sergeant Cheryl Franks
Office of the Chief
Rochester Police Department
150 Plymouth Avenue South
Rochester, New York 14614
Telephone: (716) 428-7033

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