RVA Police LGBT Liaison Unit Is Second In the Commonwealth
Richmond Police Department’s newly announced LGBT Liaison unit is the second only in the state. Arlington County in Northern Virginia is the only other police precinct to have a program that directly serves the LGBT community, but the addition of Richmond’s program is a significant step for the former Capital of the Confederacy.
Richmond Police Chief Ray Tarasovic said he supported the creation of this program after community leaders reached out to him in August of this year.
“If there are concerns in any of my communities, and we have multiple communities… then I’m looking to foster good relationships with all of these communities,” said Tarasovic. “I look for positive ends. My job is to reduce crime in this city, and to make people feel safe and be safe. Anything towards those ends I will give it a chance.”
Tarasovic appointed Major Odetta Johnson to the position. (Read our profile of Major Johnson here) Maj. Johnson is also the first black female Major in RPD.
Johnson, who has held the title since September, was excited to discuss the future of her new program.
“I see this position as helping with a transition – at the national level we see a lot of challenges in these communities,” Johnson said. “Before you offend someone or provide the wrong kind of service, you need to be at a level where you can talk before there is a problem.”
Johnson’s job will include building relationships between the Richmond LGBT community, attending LGBT events in the area, and being a contact person for the community when crimes affect local LGBTs.
Johnson has already met with community leaders and attended events like VA Pride and the Richmond Transgender Day of Remembrance, but she’s also expressed interest in seeing changes within her own police force as well.
“People shouldn’t have to have choices about ‘which bathroom I want to go into’ without feeling like it’s such a large issue. These are things we have to start dealing with now, and things we need to bring to the table. I wouldn’t want to have to decided if I go to the black or white water fountain,” said Johnson comparing issues in the transgender community to those her African-American ancestors faced during the Civil Rights Movement. “That is painful, and hurtful, and very emotional… these are things we need to be conscious of as we move forward. Referring to people in the correct gender – it’s a major thing.”
Chief Tarasovic said he hasn’t heard much criticism for the program yet, but if complaints come in, he wants Richmonders to know he supports the move towards inclusion.
“I‘m looking to foster good relations, and I’m looking to make people feel safe about being themselves,” said Tarasovic. “And who you are should not impact your feeling of safety, or what you believe, or where you live. I look at this very positively.”
Johnson acknowledged the new position was going to be a learning experience for both the community and the police department, but she was hopeful for the program and the impact it could have on the region.
“We want to attract people to our city that understand we are inclusive,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s just starting.”
“We seek to hear from people who may have had their civil rights violated”November 11, 2016
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