Surveys, focus group ask LGBTQ people what they think about cops
As the lead on LGBTQ Allyship’s police accountability community feedback project, Luzviminda “Lulu” Carpenter has learned not to take the cold shoulder personally.
“You say, ‘Police,’ and people automatically say, ‘No,’ ” Carpenter said.
She believes part of that reluctance to talk about the cops stems from troubled interactions queer people have had with police. Others may not feel safe giving her answers, Carpenter said, because they wrongly believe she works for the police department.
LGBTQ Allyship, a local nonprofit, is working to provide the Seattle Police Department (SPD) with information about how the department is perceived in the LGBTQ community.
SPD also has an in-house approach. The department operates 10 demographic advisory councils to strengthen communication between the community and police. Each advisory council has at least one police officer, one staff member and one command staff member.
Getting good data on these groups is important, Carpenter said, because the queer community is diverse.
“Our job is just to get a wide range of community opinions,” said Carpenter. “And sometimes the image of the LGBTQ community is of ‘Will and Grace,’ ” she said, referencing the Emmy-winning TV series with two white, gay male characters.
Carpenter said she hopes to talk to a broader swath of the population, including sex workers, queer immigrants and people of color and homeless youth. Roughly 40 percent of homeless youth self-identify as queer, Carpenter said. She also wants to hear from transgender people, since trans men and women tend to experience higher rates of sexual assault.
Carpenter, 35, will conduct surveys and organize a focus group on police practices and policies that affect the queer community. She will also help lead an in-depth feedback session with the same goal on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. at Southside Commons, 3518 S. Edmunds St.
In late October, Carpenter will turn over data to the Seattle Community Police Commission, a 15-member panel gathering input about citizen interaction with police. The commission will use information from LGBTQ Allyship, along with data obtained from more than 15 other groups such as One America, Entre Hermanos and the Defender Association, to suggest reforms within the SPD.
Carpenter said that surveys and presentations about the interactions between queer community members and police officers will focus on four topics: stops and detentions, use of force, in-car video recording and bias-free policing.
No one knows the true level of violence queer people face, she said, because they may not trust police enough to report crimes. Information from surveys and focus groups, once passed along to the commission, could lead to police reforms that could make queer people feel safer.
Carpenter said she believes queer people have a lot of stories about interactions with law enforcement, even if it’s about calling police to report a burglary. The surveys and the Oct. 21 feedback session will provide brief opportunities for queer people to share their feelings about police, she said. It’s a gift, she said, because police rarely seek public input.
Carpenter said she wants queer people to feel comfortable enough to speak their minds.
“Hopefully everyone in the community will be able to say what they think of the SPD.”
Calls to reform the department grew out of the aftermath of the police shooting death in 2010 of John T. Williams, a homeless, First Nations woodcarver. Williams’s death and other violent police incidents involving people of color caught the attention of officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The Justice Department released a 2011 report that found SPD officers exhibited a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness and people of color. DOJ officials also mandated the formation of a community police commission to help the department move toward bias-free policing.
The commission’s reform recommendations are due to SPD, DOJ and a court-appointed commissioner on Nov. 15.
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