Atlanta police to create LGBT advisory panel

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imageThe Atlanta Police Department is creating an LGBT advisory board and is asking the public for nominations to fill it, a move that comes in the wake of ongoing criticism of the agency and its relationship with gay Atlantans.

The department’s recently-appointed LGBT liaison, Officer Patricia Powell (photo), will meet quarterly with the nine-member panel and work with its members to improve communication between the police department and the public.

“As I begin to do the important work of this position, it will be vital that I hear directly from our community on an ongoing basis,” Powell says in a press release issued Thursday. “Open, honest communication is critical for any relationship to succeed. This board will provide an important pipeline to better relations with the GLBT community.”

The idea of creating the panel, which has existed in past years at the police department, surfaced in May when Powell was introduced during a public meeting with LGBT activists, non-profit leaders and the media. Powell was appointed LGBT liaison in May after Officer Dani Lee Harris, the agency’s LGBT liaison for more than four years, was placed on medical leave. Harris has since said the department forced her into taking medical leave and she has filed a complaint with the agency’s Office of Professional Standards.

Harris was placed on medical leave on April 16, though the public didn’t learn about the leave until activists and reporters questioned her absence from a May 6 demonstration that pitted hundreds of LGBT activists against a handful of anti-gay activists from a conservative church in Kansas. The police department says it appointed Powell on May 4, though it wasn’t publicly confirmed until reporters later asked about the status of the LGBT liaison.

imageThe police department’s relationship with LGBT residents has soured since undercover officers and its Red Dog Unit raided the Eagle last September, arresting eight people and detaining dozens of patrons, who complained about verbal and physical harassment by police. Customers inside during the raid filed a federal lawsuit in November. The criminal charges were later thrown out during a day-long trial in March. The Atlanta Citizens Review Board has recommended that police commanders discipline two officers involved in the raid and the agency’s internal investigation into the incident remains open.

In January, Acting Chief George Turner (bottom photo) – one of three finalists to take the job permanently – said “we’ve tweaked the way” the LGBT liaison is involved in agency operations. In the May meeting with Powell, Deputy Chief Ernest Finley and Powell didn’t offer specifics on any changes since Turner made his comments during a press conference with Mayor Kasim Reed. The mayor has also been stung by criticism over his statements about the Eagle lawsuit and efforts to slow the Atlanta Citizen Review Board’s investigation into this and other complaints about police actions.

But it became clear that the agency wasn’t following Turner’s statement when it took three days to notify Powell of the armed robbery of a gay couple in Piedmont Park. Six people, ranging in ages from 13 to 19, were arrested a short time after the July 2 incident. But on Wednesday, police said they didn’t follow their own policies in taking so long to notify Powell of the armed robbery, which they also classified as a bias crime.

Tthe LGBT advisory board will provide a formal platform for regular communication, according to the press statement released Thursday.

Powell will continue to attend events in the gay community, and meet individually with its leaders and other members. The advisory board will provide a formal vehicle for regular communication.

The board will help advise the APD on matters specifically related to the gay community, with the ultimate goal of forming a partnership to reduce crime. Powell will also seek input on how to ensure the APD is offering proper training to its officers with regards to interaction with the gay community.

Anyone with an interest in serving on he advisory board or a nomination should {encode=”[email protected]” title=”contact”} Powell by July 16.

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