The Gevirtz School of Education recently announced that the Santa Barbara Police Department has completed its training on safety issues concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual community members.
The five-hour training sessions, which began in November of last year, were aimed at improving safety conditions in the LGBT community and trained officers to respond to several types of potentially dangerous scenarios. The program was organized by a coalition of various local institutions and gender-oriented support groups including Just Communities, Pacific Pride Foundation, SBPD and Tania Israel from UCSB’s Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology.
The training was initially proposed after Israel conducted a study with feminist studies professor Laury Oaks and found that LGBT individuals listed safety as their top priority.
According to Israel, feedback from the recent survey showed that although LGBT individuals did not feel unsafe around law enforcement, they were generally worried about the treatment of friends and fellow LGBT members in other areas of the community.
“Even if they weren’t particularly concerned for their own safety, people were concerned about the safety of others,” Israel said. “They may not have experienced victimization themselves [but] they definitely have a sense that there’s victimization going on in the area. The vast majority of LGBT people in the area know someone who has experienced LGBT victimization.”
A second survey then revealed that 86 percent of participants knew someone who had been the victim of harassment or homophobic remarks. The results also revealed that many LGBT community members feel officers do not respond properly to instances of harassment, Israel said.
“We found that there was not an overall perception that the police were problematic; [the public], for the most part, felt like law enforcement was generally professional and helpful,” Israel said. “[However], one thing that stood out was that people noted that police do not intervene if they witness anti-LGBT harassment or remarks in public.”
Pacific Pride Foundation Executive Director David Selberg said a lack of trust in law enforcement leads to a disparity between the number of reported hate crimes and actual instances of harassment or assault.
“Nationally and locally it’s often hate crimes, particularly in the LGBT community, [that] are grossly underreported. For example, I’ll get a young man who comes into our offices here who was leaving a party in Isla Vista and gets beaten up and they’re reluctant to report it to the police,” Selberg said. ”We’re trying to develop more of a tie with the police department so our community feels more comfortable to approach the police.”
The program, designed primarily by Just Communities, gives police and LGBT community members the opportunity to work together to address oft-overlooked concerns, according to Just Communities Executive Director Jarrod Schwartz.
“I think it’s important for all people in our community to really feel safe and secure in all areas of life and that includes dealing with the police,” Schwartz said. “Locally, and even nationally, the relationship between the community and the police has not always been positive. There’s a vast amount of underreporting when it comes to [crimes toward] the LGBT community so we really wanted to do something that would increase the level of trust the community has in the police.”
According to Selberg, the sessions helped officers learn how to handle sensitive situations that require a more thoughtful approach to law enforcement.
“It’s not black and white … The police have a strict code of law, but then life happens and that’s where their questions come up,” Selberg said. “That’s the stuff [officers] really wanted to learn about that isn’t in their book.”
Schwartz said feedback from the community and officers has been positive, adding that both LGBT individuals and police officers are enthusiastic about the progress made in the training.
“There are a couple things that we’ve heard: one is just excitement from the LGBT community that the police have engaged in this type of training,” Schwartz said. “We’ve [also] heard that, already, police officers are utilizing what they’ve learned and approaching things differently. What was helpful about the workshop was, one: It really helped the police department better understand the needs of the community; and two: It has helped improve relations with the public.”