LANDOVER — The Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission (HRC) held a community meeting introducing the Prince George’s County Police Department’s (PGPD) new LGBTQ outreach team on Oct. 3 and took feedback from those in attendance on what they would like the team to do.
Six PGPD officers who identify as part of the LGBTQ community represented the new outreach team as panelists at the event where they expressed the necessity of having such a group and what they hope to accomplish as they move forward.
“I knew I wanted to join the team on the first day they reached out to me about it,” said Officer Timothy Green.
As a member of the force for five years, Green also served in the Navy for seven years and said that when he joined the PGPD, he wanted to be as comfortable being himself there as he was in the Navy. Now, part of the LGBTQ Outreach Team, he hopes he can be an example for the community and the officers in the department.
“We believe that we build understanding, we build strength in our communities, we build strong communities when we understand each other,” said Renee Battle-Brooks, executive director of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the county’s civil rights education and enforcement agency.
The HRC partners with the PGPD to uncover issues of discrimination within the county as well as topics such as human trafficking.
According to PGPD Chief Hank Stawinski, the outreach team would not have been possible without Irene Burks, a retired major with the PGPD who did a lot of work, such as police officer training, to provide inclusivity within the department which laid the foundation for the LGBTQ outreach team to be formed.
Now the people on the LGBTQ outreach team are taking that legacy a step forward, Stawinski said.
“I believe fundamentally that the value of the individuals seated before you lies inside of them,” Stawinski told the group. “It really doesn’t matter who they love, it doesn’t really matter who they love to me; they are distinguished members of this institution because of the people they are.”
He added that there are people in Prince George’s County who have been overlooked for too long. Although there is still a long way to go, the outreach time will start to build the necessary bridges to repair broken relationships.
Moderated by University of Maryland faculty member Dr. Kris Marsh, the officers on the outreach team went on to discuss what the success of the team will look like, the challenges they expect to face and how to overcome them.
“This is very successful in my eyes because we are out in the community, we are out with the chief and I have a panel of officers who are going to be with me and go through whatever we need to get the confidence in the community and bridge the gap,” said Capt. Cindy Thompson.
Other officers added that being able to interact with the community and gain the support of their fellow police officers will also be important to the success of the team.
“The department of 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure, would not have embraced this at all,” said Captain James Mitchell.
“I’m glad this is not the PGPD of 10 years ago because the new officers coming on now grew up in a very different era than most of us, and I think that’s a huge help.”
However, they and the residents in attendance agreed that gaining the trust of the LGBTQ community will be the main challenge of the team, especially the trust of the transgender community who often have not been treated well by the police.
Some of the things the outreach team said they hope to take part in to overcome these challenges are training officers in the department, especially new officers, on how to appropriately interact with members of the LGBTQ community. Also, to get transgender people involved with the training. They hope to be present in the community by attending events, giving updates and simply being a resource for the LGBTQ community if they have questions or do not feel comfortable going to a regular officer.
“Seeing this happen is awesome because Prince George’s County didn’t have an LGBT team, which now they do, and hopefully for today it will be very positive and something we will see really flourish like in Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County,” said transgender activist Karen Holmes.
Holmes said that she hoped other community leaders would come to meetings like this in the future and meet the officers on the outreach team first hand.
That way, they can talk to others in the community who may need help and refer them to the officers on the team.
After the panel discussion, people were broken up into small groups where they discussed issues that were important to them that they felt the outreach team should address.
Some of these issues included safety, getting involved in the community, and more.
For Valerie Bloom, she hoped that as the LGBTQ outreach team moves forward, they develop more direction in their plans. However, it was clear to her that the outreach team is made up of a group of police officers who really care about making a difference.
“As long as police are going to be here, I think it’s important to put an emphasis on treating people like humans, like how you would treat people who matter to you in your day to day life.”