Dante Austin received a surprise one afternoon last week.
The former deputy sheriff officer for the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office took a promotion exam last summer to be considered for a higher position within the department. Austin scored number-one on the promotion exam, resulting in a new position as deputy sheriff of the Civil Enforcement Unit.
“I was very excited. It was completely unexpected. I didn’t know until the afternoon that I was getting promoted that day,” Austin said, noting he did not receive the news until May 10, when he was called in to take the oath.
In a statement to PGN, Sheriff Jewell Williams called the 25-year-old a “rising star” and one of the “top officers” since he joined the office in 2013. Williams said Austin has “always excelled at everything he sets as goals.”
“We are indeed very fortunate to have him on our team,” Williams said.
Austin’s former position placed him primarily in the court system, while his new post will have him enforcing civil law.
In addition to his other duties, Austin will continue to serve as LGBT liaison, a post he took up last year. Previously, the office allocated time throughout the openly gay officer’s regular schedule to implement trainings, determine policies, schedule community-outreach events and oversee educational programs. Since his new position will allow him to travel across the city, Austin said he will have more opportunities to interact with LGBT community members.
He added that the liaison role has been the most rewarding aspect of being involved with the Sheriff’s Office.
“Sheriff Jewell Williams has been extremely supportive and has really allowed me to help strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the LGBT community,” he said.
Austin noted the value of personal connections among LGBT officers and the public.
“When we interact with LGBT community members, sometimes we come out to them [and] you can tell they are pleasantly surprised because they know we can relate to some of their experiences,” Austin said. “When people are looking for resources, we know where to point them.”
Austin recalled a time when he interacted with a young trans woman. After learning she was homeless, Austin put her in touch with the LGBTQ Home for Hope. The young woman went to the LGBT-friendly homeless shelter the same night and was able to access resources.
“I think being a voice for the community within law enforcement is beneficial because of the LGBT community’s resources,” Austin said. “When [community members] interact with law enforcement, I don’t think the straight, cis officers always know where to go.”
In addition to his liaison position, Austin also serves as vice president of the Gay Officers Action League. GOAL addresses the needs of LGBT law-enforcement officers.
“We have a very unique experience in law enforcement so it’s nice to be able to share those experiences with other LGBTQ officers,” Austin said.
With the current experience under his belt, Austin said he is looking forward to advancing within the office.
“I’m excited to learn there’s a whole other side of law enforcement, a whole other side that doesn’t involve necessarily locking up people, using handcuffs and what you see on TV,” he said. “There’s a very different side of law enforcement that I’m really excited about.”