Police Who Wouldn’t Take Hate Crime Report May Face Sanctions

Several Washington, D.C., police officers could lose their jobs because they refused to take an on-scene report after a violent attack on five lesbians July 30 that police classified as a hate crime two days later.

“I was appalled when I heard about the incident and the conduct of the officers,” police chief Cathy Lanier said in a statement.  The officers’ actions “are being investigated thoroughly,” she added.

The investigation could take up to four months and end in the officers’ dismissal, Lanier said at a meeting with gay activists on Friday, A. J. Singletary, chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), told Hatewatch. Singletary attended the meeting, which had been set up a few weeks earlier to discuss growing concerns about police laxity in responding to LGBT complaints of harassment and assaults.

In the latest incident, five women, all in their early 20’s, said three men approached them, trying to flirt, outside the Columbia Heights Metro station. After the women rebuffed them, and one said she was with her girlfriend, one man allegedly became enraged and began shouting about “fucking dyke bitches.” Two of the men then began punching them in the face and head, the women said. A bystander called 911, bringing four police officers to the site, along with three other officers who were nearby but not on duty. The officers restrained one of the attackers, the women said, but then let him go and refused to take a report on the incident.

The mother of one of the women called police later to complain about the officers’ behavior. Then, on Aug. 1, the department’s gay and lesbian unit filed a report and listed the incident as a hate crime, a unit spokesman told Hatewatch.

In the last few years, GLOV has seen a disturbing rise in anecdotal reports of anti-LGBT incidents, and police officers have refused to take reports in numerous cases, said Singletary. (Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center has determined that the LGBT community is the group most victimized in America by violent hate crimes.)

At their meeting with police chief Lanier, GLOV officials said that the department’s move to virtually gut its once-celebrated gay and lesbian liaison unit three years ago has left the LGBT community less protected against harassment and assaults. The unit was created 11 years ago, a pioneering move at the time. But then the approach changed a few years ago. Certain officers were trained on LGBT issues and dispersed around the city, rather than work out a centralized unit. “We didn’t think it was a terrible idea at the time, but it’s working much less well for us,” said Singletary.

It’s not even clear to many officers when these special police should be brought in to deal with LGBT harassment and crimes, he said.  The department needs to do much more to raise the profile of these officers with other police and the public, and the officers’ training needs to be improved, Singletary told Lanier at the meeting.

"She was pretty receptive to changes,” he told Hatewatch. “She wants to work with us, and we’ve set another meeting for later this month.”

The incident in which five lesbians were assaulted occurred just a day before a man approached a transgender woman in Washington, D.C., said a few words and then pulled out a handgun and shot at her. He missed in that attack, but a man using a similar MO killed 23-year-old Lashai McLean, a transgender woman, on July 20. The attacks were reminiscent of the murders of four Washington transgender women, two of them teenagers, in 2002 and 2003.