D.C. Chief Breaking Up Latino, Gay Police Units

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is breaking up highly acclaimed special units that reach out to the Latino and gay and lesbian communities, a move that is generating criticism from many activists.

Lanier said she is trying to expand services across the city rather than keep the units clustered in their current quarters in Northwest. Officers in the two units instead will work out of stations across the city. But activists are angry, especially in the gay and lesbian community, saying that the new chief is minimizing the impact of the squads.

"That will effectively erase the Unit as an identifiable and cohesive force," said an e-mail sent by gay community activist Peter D. Rosenstein to D.C. Council members.

The Latino unit is now in Adams Morgan, which has a high concentration of Hispanics, and the gay and lesbian unit is in Dupont Circle, the center of the District's openly gay population. But gay people live in all areas of the city, and the Latino population is rapidly expanding east of the Anacostia River, Lanier said yesterday.

Lanier said she plans to increase the size of the squads and spread them out in response to community demands. She also is considering making changes to the Asian liaison unit, located near Chinatown, and the deaf and hard of hearing unit, based near Gallaudet University, she said.

"Our community is diverse in every area of the city now," Lanier said. "East of the river, they want to know why they don't have access to those units. I can't afford to cluster specialized units."

The gay and lesbian unit, which has won national police awards, will expand from five to seven officers. Each officer will be assigned to a different police district. Lanier said she intends to keep the unit's headquarters in Dupont Circle.

Despite Lanier's talk of an expansion, the Latino unit is actually being cut back. The unit, which has 11 officers, will be reduced to nine stationed across the city. Lanier said she plans to add officers to that unit and maintain its office on 18th Street but is working out the details.

Eugenio Arene, president of the Latino Federation of Greater Washington, said he has been pushing for years for more Latino officers. The city is about 10 percent Hispanic, but less than 5 percent of the police force can speak Spanish, he said.

"Let's be proportional," Arene said. "What is the deployment strategy?"

In the gay and lesbian community, several activists sent e-mails yesterday voicing concerns about decentralizing their unit.

"There is still time for Chief Lanier to realize she has made a mistake and to cancel this order," Rosenstein wrote. "I believe the communities can accept that she didn't realize what these units mean to them and would be happy to give her credit for a change of heart."

Both of the units were created by Lanier's predecessor, Charles H. Ramsey, and were heavily promoted by the department.

The D.C. police gay and lesbian liaison unit, created in 2000, last year won a $100,000 Innovations in American Government Award, which was sponsored by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The Latino unit was established two years later.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), head of the public safety and judiciary committee, said he is in favor of Lanier expanding the specialized units, adding, "if she does this, she needs to get input from the communities."

Lanier said last night that she is arranging a meeting with the gay, lesbian and transgender communities.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company