Two years ago, Windy City Times talked with the Chicago Police Department's (CPD's) Deputy Director of Community Policing Mike Milstein and then-citywide liaison Bernard Escamilla about the city's LGBTQ+ liaisons for the CPD.
Since then, the program has undergone some changes, including the departure of Escamilla.
Milstein recently talked with Windy City Times about the status of the liaison program and what it hopes to accomplish.
Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: A couple years ago, it seemed like it was "all systems go" with the liaison program, with a citywide liaison and five area liaisons. What's the status of the program today?
Mike Milstein: The process has changed. We currently have two LGBTQ+ liaisons serving in the role. Obviously, over the past few years, we've learned a lot about structure.
I think that when we first launched the liaison units, we were trying to figure out what gap we were trying to fill and what was exactly neededand we learned a lot about it. Of course, the staff challenges that many police departments are facing is very real here in Chicago, so we have [difficulties] here with those positions.
Also, some of the original liaisonslike Bernardhave moved on or have been promoted. One was promoted to a sergeant and Bernard was promoted to detective. So we currently have two LGBTQ+ liaisonsZaida Sanabia (originally with Area 4) and Calla Rouldsand we're trying to figure out how to restaff and rebuild.
WCT: With only two liaisons, are they taking on more of a workload?
MM: They definitely have more of a workload and they're trying to do the best that they can. They're still doing a great job of getting out there and reaching the community. The hope is to continue building credibility and relationships with different organizations across the city. It's a little easier to reach communities because those relationships now exist.
There's been an obvious uptick in hate crimes so they do a lot of work reaching out to victims of [those] crimes. And they're doing [various] things for Pride Month.
WCT: What would you ultimately like to see with this department?
MM: Honestly, I think that's something we're still trying to figure outpartly because when we had the initial liaisons, it almost seemed like there were too many because we hadn't had that many before. We were and still are learning about what is needed, and we want to have communications with the community itself, too; it's not just about us. We want to know what the community wants to see and how these roles evolve, going forward.
They're working on ways to do more sensitivity training in the departments; we'll partner with community organizations to do department-wide training regarding the LGBTQ+ communityespecially the trans community. A huge challenge for us is to make sure every officer understands the complexities of the queer community. There are a lot of differences between being a gay male and a Black, trans woman. We want to make sure that all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.
So I don't have a good answer at the moment. We're trying to figure things out and have conversations with the public about how they envision the roles.
WCT: Are these conversations going to be town halls and, if so, when will they take place?
MM: We don't have any town halls planned at the moment. But we've had informal conversations with community groups. We're looking into having more public conversations, though.
WCT: So if a member of the LGBTQ+ community is dealing with trouble but is still suspicious of the CPD, what do you recommend and who can that person contact?
MM: We work closely with the Chicago Commission of Human Relations, which does a lot of work on hate crimes. We're closely aligned with the Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health and other organizations. We want to get to a point where community-based organizations would feel comfortable connecting us with individuals.
WCT: So what is the CPD's message to the LGBTQ+ community for Pride Month?
MM: I think we recognize the importance of remembering the history between the police and the queer community, and can never lose sight of it. But we at the Chicago Police Department want to do the best we can to support the LGBTQ+ community across Chicago, and partner with the community to build trust and relationships.
We want to move forward in a better way than we have seen in the past.
WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add?
MM: Our team will be out for Pride Month. We [were at] Midsommarfest and Chicago Pride Fest, and we'll be marching in the Pride Parade with both sworn officers and civilian members of the department. We want people to know that we are here, and that we want to build trust between the police and the LGBTQ+ community.