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study claims police mistreatment and abuse of GLBT community widespread

{ BY JONATHAN YOUNG } Amnesty International (AI) released a report last week revealing that police abuse of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is widespread nationwide and goes largely unchecked. The report lists San Diego, however, as being a progressive city in protecting its GLBT community.

In its 150-plus page report, "Stonewalled: Police Abuse And Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the U.S.," AI claims that GLBT people continue to be targeted for human rights abuses by the police based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Across the country, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people endure the injustices of discrimination, entrapment and verbal abuse, as well as brutal beatings and sexual assault at the hands of those responsible for protecting them ­ the police," said Dr. William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A. "It is a sorry state of affairs when the police misuse their power to inflict suffering rather than prevent it."

AI initiated the survey several years ago after recognizing a growing number of complaints they had received from people in the GLBT community who had been abused by law enforcement officers.

"It has been one of the issues that have come up frequently in our research," said Michael Hefflin, the director of Amnesty International U.S.A.'s OUTfront! Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights program. "We thought this was an important topic to look at a little more comprehensively."

Data for the study was gathered through three main sources: research into four specific cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Antonio), surveys of the country's largest police forces in each state, and hundreds of interviews with alleged victims. Two of those interviews were from San Diego.

"Stonewalled" is the most comprehensive report of its kind to date; yet Hefflin admits the results are not scientific. "It is hard to get statistics," he said. "But we are very clear in the report, and, based on our research, we think there is a very serious problem of police brutality and abuse among GLBT people."

The report specifically identifies transgender people as targets of police brutality, as well as people of color and youth.

"Some, including transgender individuals, people of color and the young, suffer disproportionately, especially when poverty leaves them vulnerable to homelessness and exploitation and [the victims are] less likely to draw public outcry or official scrutiny," Schulz said.

"The progress that has been made in police relations with the gay and lesbian community has not been made with the transgender community," Hefflin added.

In the report, AI welcomed the initiative taken by several police departments to improve their practices. San Diego was listed as an example of cities that have made constructive policy recommendations and strive to work with the local GLBT community.

The report specifically notes the San Diego County Citizens Law Review Board, which works with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, as being a progressive independent monitoring organization. The board's mission, in part, is to "increase public confidence in government and the accountability of law enforcement through the investigation and reporting of citizen complaints filed against peace officers."

The San Diego Police Department, although not mentioned in the report, is also progressive when dealing with the local GLBT community. Chief of Police William Lansdowne has a GLBT Advisory Council that counsels him on various GLBT-specific issues, as well as a liaison officer to the GLBT community.

"Generally, we've been very progressive with the different communities of San Diego," said David Cohen, a spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department. He said the department has officers assigned to serve as liaisons between the chief of police and various groups ­ including Hispanics, Asians, people of color and, more recently, Arabs ­ so that officers can be "sensitive and aware of the issues."

Police Lt. Margy Schaufelberger, the current liaison to the GLBT community, said her position was created back in the early '80s. "With the current chief, there is a stand that any type of discrimination is not to be tolerated," Schaufelberger said.

"Stonewalled" shows that, despite all the progress that has been made in the fight for equality since the 1969 riots that the report is named after, members of the GLBT community are still victims of hate violence, Hefflin said.

"As we move forward and recognize all of our rights, we still have to recognize that violations are still impacting members of our own communities," he said. "Police officers are hired to protect and serve all of their communities, not only the ones they deem worthy."

Hefflin said the report is not for the gay community, but is targeted for the law enforcement community.

"The primary audience for this report is the police departments and the policy makers," Hefflin said. "There is an extensive list of recommendations at the conclusion of the report. We're calling on police departments around the country to look at these recommendations and make changes in their policies in regard to working with the LGBT communities.

"Every human being, without exception, has the right to live free from discrimination and abuse, yet LGBT people nationwide are afraid to report hate crimes or other abuses to the police, who at times prove themselves to be the criminals," Hefflin said. "If we can't count on law enforcement to set an example, hate crimes and discrimination will continue to flourish in a land that otherwise has made relative headway in the fight for LGBT rights."

To review highlights of "Stonewalled," or to download the entire report, log on to www.aiusa.org.

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