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Wednesday, June 23,2010

Lansing's finest

Lansing Police Department third in state to appoint an officer as LGBT liaison

by Neal McNamara
In her 17-year career at the Lansing Police Department, Detective Michelle Bryant has observed that for gay officers, it’s mostly a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment.

“People are OK, they just don’t want to have it, I guess, pushed in their face,” she said. “Probably not everybody at my department is aware. I do not flaunt it, I just go there and do my job everyday. That’s what it takes to be respected as a police officer.”


When she came to the department as a rookie, training officers would shuttle her around to different areas of the city. Sometimes, they would pull up to a business and identify it as a gay bar.


“It was more to try to get a reaction out of you than anything,” she said.


But that all might be part of the past. Younger officers coming into the department, she said, are more tolerant. And two weeks ago, Bryant was appointed as the department’s liaison to the gay community — making Lansing the third department in the state, behind Detroit and the University of Michigan to have an LGBT liaison, and in a league with cities like New York, Washington and Chicago.


“I’m taking this position because I think it’s important for the Police Department to be responsive to the community,” she said. The liaison position will be in addition to Bryant’s duties as a detective in the fraud division the department’s North Precinct.


Bryant said that she and Capt. Ray Hall, who runs the North Precinct, have been discussing the position for almost a year. Though Bryant would not necessarily investigate every crime having to do with LGBT issues, she could act as a contact person for the community. The hope is her presence will make it easier and safer for LGBT residents to report crimes.


“This fits well with our community policing philosophy,” Hall said. “We want everyone to know that this is their Police Department and encourage them and encourage everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, personal background or preference in relationships, to know that individuals can report crimes and be treated with respect.”


Interim Police Chief Teresa Szymanski said that no particular incident gave rise to Bryant’s position, but that the department wants to make sure it reaches the entire community.


“She brings a lot of experience and will be a great liaison,” Szymanski said. “We’re a capital city, and we’re trying to stay on the cutting edge.”


Recently, Bryant has been studying crime data related to male-on-male rape in Lansing. Police were looking into an inquiry that Lansing might have a serial rapist targeting gay men, but so far they have not
found any evidence. Still, Bryant is studying crime data between 2008
and 2010 to check for similarities in crimes. If Lansing did have a
criminal targeting members of the LGBT community, police want victims
to feel comfortable reporting crimes to Bryant, rather than letting
crimes go unreported.


“If
(crimes) go unreported, it makes it extremely difficult to determine if
we do have someone engaged in a series of this type of activity,” Hall
said. “The way to determine it is to get people to report the crime.”


On
Tuesday, Bryant embarked for Chicago to attend a training seminar by
the Chicago Police Gay Officer’s Action League. She will also march in
the gay pride parade this weekend dressed in her Lansing Police uniform.


“I’m
hopeful that within the next year or two, you might see something
similar occurring at the Michigan pride parade,” she said.

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