LGBT Liaison Officers Appointed at Police Departments in All Seven Hampton Roads Cities

NORFOLK With the appointment of Sergeant Jessica Pennington as the LGBT Liaison Officer for the Newport News Police Department, Hampton Roads Pride is delighted to announce that LGBT Liaison Officers have been appointed in all of the seven major Hampton Roads cities. 

The relationship between the LGBT community and law enforcement is rapidly evolving in response to changing laws, policies, and social perceptions about people who identify as LGBT.  Hampton Roads Pride and regional law enforcement agencies are taking pro-active steps to enhance our relationship and to establish a meaningful, ongoing dialogue so that we may better serve our community.

Hampton Roads Pride has advocated for the appointment of LGBT Liaison Officers in local police agencies since Norfolk Police Department created the first program in August of 2015.  Hampton Roads Pride, in cooperation with our local, state, and federal partners, has played a critical, coordinating role in advocating for, establishing, and supporting these important positions.

In January, Hampton Roads Pride and WHRO presented a community Town Hall conversation at the Chrysler Museum of Art.  Over 300 people attended “Law Enforcement, Rights, and Safety” where members of the community and law enforcement professionals gathered to help establish and enhance vital bridges of trust and understanding. 

The specific responsibilities of LGBT Liaison Officers vary from agency to agency, but some responsibilities include: 

  • Serve as both a spokesperson for the organization to a local LGBT demographics as well as a representative of LGBT interests to the leaders of the organization. LGBT liaisons typically play an advisory role to organizations or government branches.
  • Promote equity and inclusion in the workplace, which can enhance an agency’s ability to attract and retain the brightest talent.
  • Liaison officers, who typically oversee diversity training on sexual orientation, attend special events and generally function as go-betweens, are viewed as critical to bridging the historically deep divide between the LGBT community and law enforcement
  • Help to build mutual trust, respect, and understanding
  • Break down barriers and preconceived ideas that both sides have of each other.  Officers serve not just as an asset for the LGBT community but also as a resource for fellow officers if they have questions or concerns about how to deal with different situations they may face.
  • Assist, advise, and consult other officers on cases involving LGBT issues
  • Provide training for members of the department on LGBT topics
  • Meet with business owners, community groups, and individuals of the LGBT community and present information on relevant law enforcement issues
  • Attend events in the LGBT community as a representative of the agency
  • Identify and attend training related to LGBT topics

Hampton Roads Pride president Michael Berlucchi: “We are grateful that every municipal police department in Hampton Roads has appointed an LGBT Liaison Officer.  Hampton Roads Pride is encouraged by the law enforcement community’s affirmative response to the changing social and political landscape for LGBT individuals.  We are committed to working with law enforcement agencies across Hampton Roads to do our part to ensure that everyone in our community is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.  I believe that Hampton Roads will become safer and more equitable place to live and work as a result of the historic appointment of LGBT Liaison Officers across all Seven Cities.  This is a positive step forward for everyone.”

Sergeant Craig Lovelace, LGBT Liaison Officer, Norfolk Police Department: “I see the appointment of LGBT Liaison officers as a cultural shift, both within the police department and within society. The LGBT liaison role is to serve as a bridge between the LGBT community and the police department, helping to build mutual trust, respect, and understanding between the two groups. The liaison officer can advocate for the LGBT community by making sure their concerns are heard by the police department. Also, by ensuring that LGBT people feel safe and protected, particularly when reporting crimes.

Being an openly gay officer gives me credibility within the LGBT community and helps to foster trust with a population that historically has felt mistrust toward law enforcement. An openly gay officer or LGBT ally can say to the LGBT community, this is what the police are saying and this is what it means, and I can say to the police, this is what the community is saying and this is what it means.

The appointment by police departments of liaison officers for the LGBT community can greatly assist with the department’s progression and support of the LGBT community and thus build a stronger bridge of communication between the two groups, thus enhance police legitimacy within the greater LGBT community and society in general.”

Sergeant Michele “Shelly” Meister, LGBT Liaison Officer, Virginia Beach Police Department: “Liaison positions are incredibly important for public service organizations, regardless of the focus group. Liaison positions can be temporary to serve an immediate purpose for a specific event, or have a long-term vision to support greater goals. The LGBT law enforcement liaison position is incredibly important because there is a historical mistrust for law enforcement rooted in the LGBT community and conversely there has been a lack of understanding from law enforcement. As the Virginia Beach Police Department’s LGBT liaison, I have had the opportunity to bridge this divide and bring clarity and trust to both sides. Law Enforcement LGBT liaisons lend legitimacy to the conveyance of information through their positions, and can provide anecdotal experiences for real-life situations; this level of knowledge cannot be achieved through academic review but only through personal connections and community involvement, which is the hallmark of Community Oriented Policing. This country has a long history of using laws and police to further marginalize the LGBT community, however, the law enforcement profession has expended great effort to extinguish discriminatory practices, and the appointment of LGBT liaisons into police departments just solidifies this philosophy.”

Captain Kenneth W. Saucer, LGBT Liaison Officer, Portsmouth Police Department: “The Portsmouth Police Department is dedicated to the protection and security of all people and, in partnership with our community, to providing quality public safety services while affording dignity and respect to every individual. By endorsing the Portsmouth Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Officer, Hampton Roads Pride has paved the way for the Department to build trust and transparency with the LGBT community that we serve.”

For a complete directory of LGBT Liaison Officers, click here: http://www.hamptonroadspride.org/resources/lgbt-liaison-officers/