Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advocating for Better MA State Police Conduct

GLAD primarily achieves its victories through impact litigation in the courts, but we also look for other ways that we can accomplish our mission. One recent example is our participation in the Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Coalition that resulted in the successful passage of a law that adds protections for transgender people to the state’s anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws. Another example is our participation in meetings with police that help to educate the police about LGBT concerns and gives us a way to discuss any concerns that we hear about through our Legal InfoLine.

Over two years ago, GLAD began to receive complaints through our Legal InfoLine from gay men who reported that some Boston Police officers were acting very aggressively towards gay men who were just walking through or near the Fens. Officers would approach the men and ask very invasive questions and threaten people with arrest if they did not answer truthfully.

As a result of these complaints, representatives from the Anti-Violence Project, the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Community Health, the Male Center of AIDS Action Committee, the LGBT liaison from the Mayor’s Office and GLAD began to meet on a regular basis with some of the Boston Police leadership, including the Superintendent, and with the officer who is the liaison to the LGBT community.

Initially there was an exchange of information and a lot of learning that took place on both sides. The police heard about our concerns and issues, and the LGBT participants learned about how and why the police work in certain ways. After a number of meetings, we were able to build a collaborative and positive working relationship that allowed us to discuss any issues or concerns that we had. Some of the accomplishments include:

  • Agreement on the rights that someone has when confronted by a police officer that finally led to a wallet card being produced that could be given out by LGBT outreach workers. These cards were used by the Boston Police to educate their officers in the field about the appropriate way to interact with someone they perceive to be LGBT.
  • The Boston Police run all incident reports through a computer to help identify cases where a hate crime may have occurred. We were able to assist the police in adding other key words to their search so that more incidents would be identified as potential hate crimes.
  • A caller to the InfoLine had been charged with a very serious felony in a situation where only a misdemeanor charge was warranted. The police were able to intervene and get the charges dropped.
  • The Fens has signs that post the closing time of the park—but they don’t list the same time. We all agreed that replacing them with signs that are consistent is necessary, but so far the resources have not been found to make it happen.

When GLAD receives calls to the InfoLine that report Boston Police misconduct, there is now a forum for discussing the incident with the Boston Police. Interestingly, we have not had a complaint on the InfoLine concerning a Boston Police officer for over a year.

Due to the success of this collaboration with the Boston Police, when the InfoLine began to receive some complaints this fall about State Police misconduct on public land, a meeting was setup with the same LGBT groups and the Executive Office of Public Safety, the State Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

In 2001, GLAD won a settlement that resulted in the State Police issuing a General Order about how State Police should treat law abiding citizens on public property. At the meeting, it was good to see that the General Order had been reissued in 2009 and so was still in effect. This meeting was the beginning of a dialogue that we hope will lead to the establishment of a positive working relationship with the State Police. There has already been a second meeting with Colonel Marian McGovern and some of her staff and we have agreed to work with the Massachusetts State Police to create a training curriculum around LGBT issues.

Anyone with concerns about the police is encouraged to contact GLAD’s Legal InfoLine. The InfoLine is a free, confidential service. Contact the InfoLine at 800-455-GLAD (4523) Monday-Friday from 1:30-4:30pm or anytime at

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