This weekend, New York City’s annual Pride parade will take place and groups of law enforcement and corrections professionalswill not be participating. In May, NYC Pride organizers voted toban them from taking part in Pride marches until 2025, when the policy will be reviewed. The reason? A desire to “create safer spaces for the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities.”
Organizers also voted to hire private security to meet public safety needs and turn to community members and volunteers for public health needs. This is an increasingly common response to requests by some members of the public for a reduced police presence at community events. It is one of thedemands made by Pride 4 the People, an organization that has been advocating for similar approaches for Pride celebrations in Boston.
This is a step backwards, and it runs contrary to the trust and community partnerships that progressive police departments have worked to build.
I’m well aware of the history LGBTQ individuals and groups have with law enforcement. I’m also aware of the divide between police and members of BIPOC communities. I empathize with the motivation behind these types of bans.
But bans will not solve our problems — and not just because the need for professional public health and safety officials at large events was tragically demonstrated during this past weekend’sfatal accident during a Pride celebration in Wilton Manors, Florida. Banning police from participating in Pride events shuts down conversation. It excludes LGBTQ officers. It exacerbates existing tensions. Separating us does not build trust. It builds barriers.
So how do we move forward? By communicating, collaborating, building community, and learning from one another.
In Arlington, where I serve as chief of police, we proactively build and improve relationships with all of our neighbors and fellow community members, and that includes the LGBTQ community. As a police captain, I volunteered to serve as the APD liaison to the Rainbow Commission after it was formed in 2017. When I was appointed chief, I chose to remain as the liaison and will continue in this role. I’ve learned a lot and deeply enjoy and value what we’ve achieved by working together.
Over the summer, APD worked with the town’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission to update the department’s policy on serving transgender community members. Some of the updates included changing language so that it reflects common vernacular and including summaries of new laws in Massachusetts that protect the civil rights of transgender people in public accommodations, employment, housing, credit, and public education and the inclusion of gender identity in the state’s hate crimes law.
I’m proud that the Rainbow Commission offered to write a letter of recommendation for APD’s application to enroll officers in Georgetown University’sActive Bystandership for Law Enforcement Project, which trains first responders, including law enforcement, on how to effectively intervene to prevent colleagues from causing harm.
APD is working with the Matthew Shepard Foundation to bring training to our officers and command staff as well as interested community members around hate crime response and prevention training. My department has also signed on to the NYU School of Law Policing Project30X30 Campaign, which is a pledge to have women account for 30 percent of the APD’s sworn staff by the year 2030. The campaign is based on research showing that women officers use less force and less excessive force, see better outcomes for crime victims, especially in sexual assault cases, and make fewer discretionary arrests, especially of BIPOC people.
Through all of these initiatives, APD aims to be a diverse and inclusive department that is committed to progress and improvement and serving our community members equitably and respectfully. My goal, as chief, is to ensure that my officers have the skills and tools needed to build relationships and community with all of our residents, including BIPOC and LGBTQ residents, and my hope is that residents will join us in this work.
I am not blind to the problems of the criminal justice system past and present, but keeping us all apart is not the solution.
Julie Flaherty is chief of police in Arlington, Massachusetts.