Those three words comprise the motto of the Philadelphia Police Department. But the city hasn’t had the best reputation when it comes to police-community relations — particularly with the LGBT community.
Though the city has had a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation in place for nearly 30 years, the police department has not been nearly as progressive.
While the days of bar raids, arrests, extortion and constant harassment are gone, the police department is by no means a model for LGBT relations — and integration.
To date, there has been a handful or so of openly gay officers. Of those, one was murdered by his boyfriend and another committed suicide.
This is not to say that the police department hasn’t made strides and efforts to improve relations with the community. It has. There is an LGBT police liaison, the department has engaged in recruiting efforts in the community and provided LGBT awareness sessions for police recruits. Police have been present at Pride and OutFest for years, and have worked to enforce the law and provide safety for participants and protesters alike.
But there are still issues, including civil-rights violations and brutality, particularly in districts outside of Center City. This week, a gay man spoke at the Police Advisory Commission meeting at the William Way LGBT Community Center, claiming police brutality and harassment in response to a domestic dispute last month.
Though neither man wanted to press charges — the man said he just wanted his partner to sober up and be escorted home — police arrested both men for assault. Earlier this week — more than three weeks after the incident — the partner was still incarcerated. (The arrest was a violation of his probation.)
Regardless of the men’s former records, police harassment and brutality — if it occurred — is never acceptable. Neither man was armed, nor are there allegations of drug use or possession. And under no circumstances is it acceptable for officers to use gay slurs.
Even before the man spoke at the PAC meeting, more than one community member raised the concern that the existing police force does not receive LGBT sensitivity training. As commendable as it is for the department to provide sessions to recruits on the community, it is not the same as providing ongoing training to veteran officers.
Beyond instituting training for veteran officers, the department could go a long way by creating a gay and lesbian liaison unit staffed and/or led by openly gay officers. Commissioner Charles Ramsey had created a similar unit in Washington, D.C., when he was police chief there. Though he said he would consider establishing a gay unit here, it has not materialized, reportedly due to lack of resources.
In addition, the department could institute harsher penalties for officers who engage in brutality or harassment.
And finally, the department could encourage the establishment of an association for openly LGBT officers, such as the Gay Officers Action League in New York City.