Atlanta police apologizes for homophobic slides

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Atlanta police moved quickly to scrub homophobic and anti-trans training materials from instruction given to new recruits in the wake of the objectionable content becoming public.

The agency also offered an apology from one of its highest-ranking openly gay commanders, an official who was put in charge of the department's training academy just weeks before controversy erupted over the training slides.

“It was outdated, it was offensive,” Major Darin Schierbaum (photo) says. “We are disappointed it wasn't caught sooner. We are not even going to pretend to say that it was not offensive. It is not representative of the Atlanta Police Department.”

The PowerPoint slides – exposed in late August – taught that sodomy is illegal, “unnatural” and comparable to bestiality, chicken hawks are pedophiles and included pejorative terms for transgender people.

In an interview with Project Q Atlanta, Schierbaum says the slides were quickly removed once top police commanders learned of their existence.

“The terms that were still present in that PowerPoint were very disappointing and as the academy director, we apologize that that was there. We were glad it was brought to our attention so that we were able to correct it,” he says.

And training academy staff is reviewing other materials for any objectionable content.

“We are assessing all of our other PowerPoints and lesson plans just to ensure there is nothing else that is out there,” Schierbaum says.

Some of the slides taught that consensual sodomy is illegal, though it's been legal in Georgia since 1988. Schierbaum says those slides were paired with instruction from classroom teachers who explained current law to recruits. But since media reports detailing the slides last month, the training academy has revised the slides to correctly describe the state's sodomy law without additional information from an instructor.

“The slide is there to impart to all of the recruits that it is not illegal any longer, that because of the court rulings – even though you find it in the Georgia law – it is not illegal. We are going to ensure that any slide moving forward does not need an instructor to convey that message because if you show the slide alone, that message could be inferred and that is not the case. Our instructors are very clear on the law,” Schierbaum says.

Even with the revisions to the training materials, Schierbuam says he's concerned about the lingering effects on the public perception of the department. As a lieutenant in 2009, he was among Atlanta police officials who met with LGBT residents and activists to repair the department's image in the wake of the Eagle raid.

“My fear is that people will take those slides and make an inference that this is the Atlanta Police Department, this is how we value LGBT citizens. It is not the case. We have a proven track record of moving forward, of being proactive in building relationships and not only saying it but delivering on it,” he says.

“I am a product of a department that values diversity. I am a product of a department that will reward hard work. If we were a homophobic department, you would not see LGBT officers coming out, you would not see people joining the department because they were LGBT and they felt welcomed, and you would certainly not see commanders throughout the department who are LGBT,” Schierbaum adds.

In January, Schierbaum and Henrietta Smith were promoted to major, making them the highest-ranking openly LGBT commanders in the police department. Deputy Chief Renee Propes, a lesbian and one of the agency's top five commanders, retired in January 2014.

Schierbuam was assigned to lead the training academy in early August, a few weeks before the controversy erupted over the training materials. He hopes the flap over the training materials doesn't overshadow the agency's diversifying ranks. He commands a training academy staff that includes a number of LGBT officers, including former LGBT liaison Patricia Powell.

“We now have LGBT officers at almost every single rank and you cannot find a division in the department where there is not an LGBT officer,” he says. “The people of Atlanta should see themselves in the Atlanta Police Department. Religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity – you should be able to look at the Atlanta Police Department and you should see the City of Atlanta and I think we are accomplishing that.”

During their training, new recruits spend classroom time with the agency's two LGBT liaisons to discuss policies that deal with LGBT issues, Schierbuam says.

'Mass training' related to Eagle raid now complete

The academy director also says that the department has completed the retraining of its entire force, a move ordered by a federal judge in May. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten held the city and police department in contempt for failing to fully implement reforms the city agreed to when it was sued over the Eagle raid.

Batten gave the city 90 days to retrain its nearly 2,000 police officers on current law concerning detentions, arrests, frisks and searches; and to revise its Standard Operating Procedures to reflect the reforms and instructions concerning video recordings of officers, warrantless seizures, documentation of identification checks and investigating citizen complaints.

That training has been completed, Schierbuam says.

“We executed mass training, where we had two to three sessions a day, done in two different blocks. Every sworn officer came through. If you are actively employed at the department, we have completed that training,” he says.

Schierbuam says the department has also assessed the court rulings and implemented its directives into future in-service trainings for officers.

“We are compliant and we have completed those requirements,” Schierbaum says.

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