San Francisco has become the first city in the country to launch citywide police station “safe zones” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, staffed with police liaisons trained to serve that community.
All 10 police district stations in San Francisco now have signs that designate the station as a safe zone and state that “LGBT individuals will be treated with respect, compassion and honesty.” The signs are intended as a preventive measure against hate crimes and a way to encourage victims to report incidents.
The police department’s LGBT Advisory Forum is leading the effort in partnership with the SFPD, community groups like the Castro Community on Patrol, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of charitable street performers who use high camp and satire to combat sexual intolerance.
“This is a historical moment,” said Sister Pat N Leather, who appeared in her mock nun’s habit beside San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr at a kickoff event at Mission Station this week. In Washington state, Leather said, police have tried creating a room for LGBT community members within a police station, but she believes that San Francisco’s planned program is the country’s most extensive yet.
In the coming months, liaisons for each police district station will be trained to assist members of the LGBT community who come to the police for help. Organizers plan to reach out to local businesses that would also like to display signs that designate them as an LGBT safe zone.
The program comes in the wake of an incident in February of this year in which two transgender individuals were assaulted in the Mission. Supporters of the safe zone initiative hope it will help LGBT community members to feel more comfortable reporting hate crimes to the police.
Harassment and similar crimes targeted to the LGBT community are widely underreported, said Leather. The safe zone initiative is meant to boost the reporting rate and make crime statistics more accurate.
The Latino transgender community is often a particular target of violence and discrimination, said District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who supports the new effort.
“This is not the San Francisco Police Department of the 1970s,” said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. Some LGBT community members, however, still distrust the police, officials said.
“What are they going to say to the police officer — I was out cruising when this [crime] happened?” Leather asked. Organizers said that with dedicated liaisons at each district station, they hope the answer to that question might eventually be yes.