With three years as a beat cop in Buckhead and seven more as a youth detention center administrator, Brian Sharp says his experience will benefit him in his new post as LGBT liaison for Atlanta police.
The 35-year-old officer became the Atlanta Police Department’s second fulltime liaison this week, a first for the department and coming at a time when the police agency is working to repair its relationship with the city’s gay residents since the raid of the Eagle in September 2009.
Sharp (top photo), whose first day as LGBT liaison was Thursday, says he understands that the raid and a series of other events have focused increased attention on the role of the police liaisons.
“With taking any new position within the department, there will be somewhat of a learning curve,” Sharp says during one of his first interviews with an LGBT media outlet. “That might be magnified just a bit with this position. I am looking forward to the challenge. I am chomping at the bit to get started.”
Sharp says he and Office Patricia Powell (second photo), who was appointed LGBT liaison in May, still have to sort out their roles with department brass. Both officers report to the department’s chief of staff, a position that reports directly to Chief George Turner. Sharp’s new role fulfills a pledge from Turner and Mayor Kasim Reed for the police department to have at least two LGBT liaisons.
“It’s my first day on the job. Officer Powell and myself and the command staff will have to sit down and work out those details. We are going to hit the ground running as soon as possible,” Sharp says.
Sharp comes to the new role as the first gay man to fill it; Powell was preceded by two lesbians. Though he’s out to other officers, being so publicly out as one of the department’s LGBT liaisons may take some getting adjusted to, Sharp says.
“As far as being openly gay, that part never really bothered me. Police officers, by nature, are pretty private individuals and this is a public position and I had to consider that going in. I weighed out everything and decided to take the position because it will do some great things in the community. I like to grow and experience new things – I have a lot to bring to the table. It was a no brainer for me,” he says.
Even his partner of two years gave his OK, Sharp says.
“Surprisingly, he was very excited. He is one of my biggest supporters,” Sharp says.
Turner, named acting chief in January before getting the permanent job in July, and the department have stumbled in their approach to the department’s LGBT liaison. In January, standing beside Reed when he was named acting chief, Turner said the department “tweaked the way” the LGBT liaison was informed of issues relating to LGBT citizens. That came after reports that the LGBT liaison did not learn about the Eagle raid until a day later when asked by a reporter.
But since Turner made those comments, the department’s LGBT liaison of more than four years, Officer Dani Lee Harris (bottom photo), was placed on leave without pay after filing a complaint with APD’s internal affairs unit, the department didn’t publicly announce her replacement until questioned by the LGBT media and activists, no liaison attended a large-scale LGBT demonstration in May, and Powell wasn’t informed of the armed robbery of a gay couple until three days after they were attacked in Piedmont Park.
The department even issued a statement that said it didn’t follow its own procedures in taking three days to notify Powell of the Piedmont Park incident, which they classified as a bias crime.
In recent weeks, though, the police department has formed a nine-member LGBT advisory board, which met for the first time on Sept. 20. And in recent crimes involving victims who were gay or perceived to be gay – including the shooting of Traxx co-owner Durand Robinson and the killing of two men the same day they attended Black Gay Pride – Powell was either quickly informed or called to the scene.
Turner and top commanders, along with Reed, also attended a town hall meeting in July to address public safety concerns among the city’s gay residents.
Sharp says it’s part of his new role to continue rebuilding the relationship between the police department and LGBT residents.
“There are certainly areas that we can improve. The mayor and the chief have put their best foot forward. It speaks volumes for them and their commitment to the city and the GLBT community,” Sharp says.