At a meeting March 9 between city police and representatives of local LGBT groups, top police officials said they were looking to expand "cultural competency training" and recruitment of LGBT police officers.
City police have struggled with diversity
in recent years, but "it's a clear goal of [Chief Cameron McLay] to look like the community we serve," says commander Eric Holmes, who was at the meeting. "We would love members of the [LGBT] community to sit" for the next civil-service test in June. He also says the police haven't had consistent department-wide cultural-competency training "for a few years now," and that McLay wants it to apply to "the newest officer all the way up the chain of command."
LGBT groups including the Persad Center, Delta Foundation and Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, as well as religious leaders were in attendance, Holmes says — part of an effort to open a dialogue and build trust with the LGBT community, which has sometimes been skeptical of police.
Tensions ran high this past summer, for instance, when Pittsburgh officer Souroth Chatterji arrested a teenage girl at PrideFest after punching her repeatedly
. He was cleared of all wrongdoing
, but the city didn't offer a detailed explanation of how the evidence led them to that conclusion.
“Obviously, I think there are some concerns in the LGBT community with the Pittsburgh police,” says Delta Foundation president Gary Van Horn, who attended the meeting with McLay and whose organization manages the events associated with Pride. "It would be my hope that the chief is trying to repair some of that and reach out.”
Though it wasn't discussed at the meeting, Van Horn says he's already been in contact with McLay's office in an effort to make sure this year's Pride is well staffed by police. Last year, some officers never made it to their designated posts
, something Van Horn says could be fixed by working with a scheduler within the bureau, instead of relying solely on third-party scheduler Cover Your Assets.
Betty Hill, executive director at Persad, and Van Horn agree the meeting was productive. "All in all, I’d say it was a very positive introduction,” says Hill. "I think he’s sincere about wanting the police to be unbiased." Hill says there's also a need for affirmative "competency skills" — to handle issues such as same-sex intimate-partner violence.
But the LGBT community isn't monolithic: Trans people or racial minorities may have dramatically different perceptions of police, Hill says. "There is a lot of work we need to do ... within the community. [...] But also police [need to understand] the different fear that comes from not being a part of a privileged community.”