Police liaison is valuable position

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When Indianapolis officials appointed LGBT liaisons to their police and fire departments last month, they released a statement touting their action to the public.

“Today’s announcement establishing police and fire liaisons to the LGBT community demonstrates our commitment to service and inclusion,” the statement said. “We look forward to working with the LGBT community, exploring issues involving the LGBT community in police and fire training, and partnering on future projects.”

But when the Milwaukee Police Department named Mary Hoerig as its official liaison to the LGBT community last month, there was no statement or announcement. That’s unfortunate, because it’s an important position that needs visibility in order to be successful. Moreover, the department’s silence cost an opportunity to send the message that it values the city’s LGBT citizens and expects its officers to serve and protect them.

While law enforcement’s duty to the LGBT community might seem self-evident, it’s a relatively new concept. Until recent years, police were the worst perpetrators of hate crimes toward LGBT citizens. When officers weren’t overtly harassing gays, they were ignoring the crimes committed against them by others.

Hoerig’s appointment comes nearly 20 years after Milwaukee police arrested Jeffery Dahmer and the world learned how little the city’s police cared about protecting its gay citizens.

Much has happened since. When hearings by the Fire and Police Commission uncovered harassment of LGBT officers within the department several years ago, the department responded by changing its culture to single out the harassers rather than target the victims.

By all accounts, including that of Hoerig, MPD Chief Ed Flynn is sincerely committed to diversity. But someone fumbled the ball by allowing a significant development in police relations with the community to fly in under the radar.

Fortunately, Flynn chose well in Hoerig, an out officer who has served unofficially as a go-between for the community and the MPD for years. She has the capability to serve in her new role with distinction if she’s given adequate internal support. We trust that despite the neglectful way her appointment was handled, the MPD will take her work seriously.