A cultural divide between a city's police force and its gay and lesbian community is pervasive throughout much of America, and this chasm often results in decreased safety and wellbeing of these gay populations. Despite its prominent gay community, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area was no exception. In 1998, only two hate crimes against gay victims were reported to the police. A couple of D.C. police officers were astute enough to recognize that this statistic did not indicate a lack of hate crimes, but rather distrust between the gay community and the police force. To bridge this divide, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department established the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in June 2000.
The D.C. Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) distinguishes itself from other community police units by merging three approaches: providing educational outreach to the gay community, educating its fellow police officers, and actively participating in day-to-day crime fighting responsibilities. The officers in the GLLU investigate crimes committed both against and by the gay community and are an active investigative unit.
In its outreach work, the GLLU transcends geographic boundaries to contact the gay community-a population that is often difficult to identify and locate within traditional policing boundaries. Rather than waiting for gay community members to approach them, the GLLU reaches out to the gay community members in their own environment-social functions, memorials, bars, clubs, restaurants, support groups, and community and organizational meetings. By integrating themselves in the gay community, the GLLU officers not only establish themselves as trustworthy but also identify key information sources for future investigations within the gay community.
The GLLU's peer officer training further improves both interactions between police officers and the gay community as well as the success of investigations involving members of this community. This peer officer training focuses on discussing proper terminology, gay culture, dynamics of same-gender relationships and domestic violence, hate/bias crime investigations, and HIV transmission prevention education. By educating officers on the cultural differences, these officers are now more sensitive about the gay community's needs, vulnerabilities, and permanent place in local culture.
By combining these community poling approaches, the GLLU has had a significant effect on the safety of the gay community in the D.C. Metropolitan area. First off, the establishment of the GLLU has led to the recognition of same-sex domestic violence. In 2000, no same-gender domestic violence cases were investigated. As of August 2005, GLLU members had investigated over 300 cases of domestic violence. This change was due both to more MPD officers trained to understand the dynamics of same-sex relationships, and the assignment of a GLLU officer to guide the victims through the criminal justice system. In addition, the presence of reliable sources within the gay community has resulted in a homicide case closure within the GLLU exceeding 95%. But perhaps the program's most compelling indication of success is that in 2005, 52 hate crimes against the gay community were reported, suggesting that much of the city's gay community now views the D.C. Metropolitan Police as a trusted ally.