Recently, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) announced five LGBTQ+ liaisons for the Chicago Police Department. The liaisons include officers Phoebe Flores (Area 1), Matthew Schlagel (Area 3), Zaida Sanabia (Area 4), Megan Woods (Area 5) and Bernard Escamilla (team leader and citywide liaison); the Area 2 liaison will be announced at a later date.
Escamilla and Deputy Director of Community Policing Mike Milstein recently discussed the announcement as well as the liaisons' goals.
Windy City Times: Tell me about the program.
Mike Milstein: We at CPD wanted to expand what we do for underserved communities. We will have six liaisonsone for each of CPD's five patrol areas and one citywide liaison. The area liaisons will focus more on the hyperlocal level, reaching out to communities and helping them to [solve problems]. Bernard will be the team leader, making sure there's more of an impact for the LGBTQ community.
In addition, CPD has added three other community liaisons, including an immigrant outreach liaison, a homeless outreach liaison and a religious-minority officer liaison.
This is all an initial rollout. This is the largest [outreach] we've done regarding civil rights, so we might make adjustments or additions later after we see how it goes. But for now, we want to provide more resources for marginalized communities.
WCT: I remember when Officer Jose Rios [a member of the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame] was the LGBTQ+ liaison [for the 23rd District], although he was not the city's first.
MM: And we've had LGBTQ liaisons in the past, like Jose and other folks, who were appointed by their district commanders. This is the first time that the officers are officially appointed by the department.
WCT: There are other duties I'm wondering about. Will, for example, the liaisons be training other officers?
MM: Yes; they'll be providing resources to other LGBTQ officers but they'll also provide training for our members. We recently rolled out a new transaction with the transgender/intersex policy.
Bernard Escamilla: Part of my responsibilities as a citywide leader is to be involved in hate-crime investigation so we've been rolling out trainings and refresher courses [that focus on] hate-crime policies and sensitivity to the LGBTQ community. I have included LGBTQ-specific terminology, how to ask someone for their pronoun, demeanor and everything else from our transgender/gender non-conforming policies.
WCT: And where will you get information in the future? As I've learned, the information regarding the LGBTQ community is constantly changing.
BE: A lot of the info has come from community conversations where we meet with individuals who are interested in policy reports. [Note: The meetings are not open to the public yet, but Milstein said he hopes that changes soon.] We've been meeting with them to include terms such as intersex, which we've never had in our policy before. And we do have periods where we re-evaluate the policies on an ongoing basis.
WCT: Given the histories of the police and the LGBTQ+ community, how can you convince some people that there isn't a "blue wall of silence?" Some LGBTQ+ people might be cynical that any action will be taken, even if they complete a report.
BE: I think a big portion of that is accountability of the liaisons. I say that because we're appointed to these positions and we're given these responsibilities to build relationships. We're accountable for following up with cases and victims. In my experience, if we can prove to a victim or subject that we're accountable, it gives credibility. There's a ripple effect.
MM: To echo what Bernard said, this is about showing the community that we're dedicated to thisthat we're committed to this. We have to show that we're taking things seriously.
WCT: I know the announcement just happened last month, but have you gotten any feedback from the LGBTQ+ community so far?
MM: We've gotten a lot of great feedback so far. People have called and asked their liaisons to come out and speak to their organizations or be part of their events. I think there is some excitement around it. So far, we're happy with the rollouts; people seem to be taking them positively.
BE: A lot of the feedback, as Michael said, has been positive. And we're getting a lot more inquiries. We've had a handful of cases in which people have reached out to our LGBTQ+ liaisons. It's good to know that some of these community organizations can reach out to us.
WCT: And the entire city is being covered, including the South and West sides, which have often been neglected.
BE: When Michael and I were having a discussion, one of the issues that came up was not making sure that one area was getting all the attention.
MM: We absolutely recognize that there are issues regarding the Boystown [Northalsted] and Andersonville communities versus the communities in East Garfield Park or Auburn-Gresham. We're all one community but there are varying challenges throughout the city, so it's important that we have liaisons within those specific populations.
WCT: Ultimately, what would you like to see the liaisons accomplish?
MM: My overall hope is that these liaisons help to build (or rebuild) a relationship between the CPD and the LGBTQ+ community. We recognize that the relationship has been strained for many decades, dating back to before Stonewall. We want to bridge that gap a little bit, and have a good relationship. We'd like the LGBTQ+ community to feel safe, especially the Black, Brown and trans communities. We want to provide as many resources as possible and help the LGBTQ+ community feel as safe as possible.
BE: It's about giving back to the community. It'd be great to change the culture within the police department. When we talk about LGBTQ+ people in Chicago, we sometimes forget that there are LGBTQ+ officers as well. I want to cultivate a more positive and accepting environment within the police department.
Overall, we're excited about the expansion and have six officers cover the city. It's a huge step for the department, and I hope it will benefit the city, in the long term.