The road to repairing the strained relationship between Atlanta police and gay residents has been, in large part, paved with the good will fostered by the agency’s two LGBT liaisons. But it turns out that if it’s after hours, they might need a lift.
In the wake of the Eagle raid, criticism mounted that Atlanta police didn’t utilize its LGBT liaison in that botched raid or in later incidents with a gay angle. So police Chief George Turner revamped the department’s policies over using the now-two LGBT liaison officers, spelling out how fellow officers, detectives and commanders should notify them.
But until an alleged sexual assault Nov. 4 at a Midtown LA Fitness, it wasn’t widely known that the two liaisons – Officers Brian Sharp (second photo right) and Patricia Powell (left) – can’t quickly respond to calls with LGBT victims when they aren’t on duty. Why? A cost-cutting measure that reduced the number of officers with take-home patrol cars.
That means city cops – including the LGBT liaisons, assistant zone commanders and even hostage negotiators—who are called to duty during their off hours must first report to work, check out a pool vehicle and then respond to a crime scene.
For Charlie Stadtlander, a gay man who was assaulted in the LA Fitness in Ansley Mall, that meant Sharp couldn’t make it to the scene as other officers arrested his alleged assailant. Sharp talked with officers making the arrest via cellphone.
“That prevents him from being able to respond, unless he is able to go to the police department and get a car,” Stadtlander says. “That would have taken too long. That is my biggest complaint about the department. Our LGBT liaison was trying to respond but he could not adequately respond because he didn’t have a police car.”
Stadtlander says that otherwise, police officers responded to his 911 call within minutes and that they were “very comforting and extremely professional.”
Carlos Campos, an Atlanta police spokesperson, says that the department’s LGBT liaisons are not required to respond to crime scenes, though they sometimes do. When they do and aren’t on the clock, they must first get a patrol car.
“When department on-call employees are asked to respond to a scene, they are expected to report to their workplace and check out a pool vehicle available to them,” Campos says. “Again, this applies to many on-call employees as well as our LGBT liaisons.”
Campos also says that in Stadtlander’s case, responding officers followed department policy and notified Sharp, which is a request that Stadtlander also made.
“[Department policy] requires they be notified, which was done in this case. Our entire department has undergone LGBT sensitivity training and continues to. We expect all of our officers to appropriately handle encounters with victims of all communities,” Campos says.