Interview with Los Angeles Police Captain on TG issues
The View From Here
Frontiers - L. A. / Southern California Edition
July 19, 2002 / Volume 21, Issue 06 http://la.frontiersweb.com/w_current/news4.htm
In a Candid Interview, LAPD Captain Discusses Transgendered Issues, Gay Officers and the Future of Hollywood
By Vince Catrone
"I think we've come a long way in terms of engagement, dialogue, tolerance, learning and adaptability. I think 10 years ago you'd never see uniformed LAPD in the gay [pride] parade."
LAPD Capt. Michael Downing
Since 1999, Capt. Michael Downing has been assigned as the commanding officer at the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Division, one of the most culturally and socio-economically diverse districts the department patrols. As the division reaches from Fairfax High School to the Hollywood Reservoir, Downing is responsible for policing areas as diverse as Thai Town and the Hollywood Redevelopment District. Frontiers recently sat down with Downing, a Southern California native, USC graduate and second generation police officer, to talk about some of the most important issues facing the LGBT community when it comes to its relationship with the LAPD.
Vince Catrone: Over the past year, is crime up in the Hollywood area?
Capt. Michael Downing: Crime in general is going up across the city. Compared to six years [ago] it's down, and it's down in Hollywood more than it is in the city, but the trend is going up. I think some of the reasons are the demographics the youthful population is hitting that 17 to 28 year range. I think some of the prisoners are being paroled, and that's causing a rise. A billion and a half dollars is being invested in Hollywood. A lot of people come to be entertained, to go to dinner, to go to shows, which is a great thing. In a way it is kind of a target rich environment. The other thing is, compared to 30 months ago, we're down about 60 officers. Sixty officers effectively eliminates a HYPE unit [a program that deals specifically with narcotics users who steal to pay for their habit] that I had that made between 60 and 70 arrests a month. But hopefully we're going to turn that around in the next five years or so. We are going to be replenishing the organization again.
VC: What about hate crimes and crimes directed at the transgendered community?
MD: That's always high on our priority list, in terms of how we communicate with the communities, and how we respond to the community's needs, and when I first got here, sexually oriented hate crimes would run about 68 to 70%. Especially this past year, in 2001, the number has been reduced almost 50%. One of the things we found also is the transgendered community, probably 70 to 75% of that community, is engaged in what they call sex work, or streetwalking prostitution. Half of that number does it for [survival], because they are not able to maintain their job because of employment problems, and that needs to be addressed in a whole other world. The other half is probably addiction problems. The reason they are such an important community to us is because whether they are or not engaged in streetwalking prostitution, [or] whether they are just out walking the boulevard, they are victims. The gang members know they can prey on this community, and it is very unlikely the community will testify in court, and follow up, whether they are uncomfortable with the court system, or what have you. So we've had a problem in the past. It's not so much now. We've put undercover officers out when we were at the peak of this problem, dressed up as transgendered, with undercover officers to bait gang members into hitting on them in terms of robbing them. The interesting thing was, we had a lot of intelligence out there; we had some lookyloos, but nobody would come near, and after that street robberies against the transgendered went down. It is an interesting concept, and we'd be willing to do it again because we think it had an effect.
I know at times the transgendered community possibly believes that we did not serve or protect [their] community as we would another part of the community. Myself and our vice lieutenant, we go every other month and talk to Bienestar and listen to what their concerns are. There was a time maybeI've been here three years this July there was a lot of distrust, a lot of feeling that the officers didn't respect the transgendered out there, made inappropriate comments to them, and I think through dialogue I started to understand what they were talking about. We invited the transgendered community to roll call. What we came to realize was that the officers were really uncomfortable because they didn't know what to say or how to talk, and if a man should search or a woman should search. We've come to learn about the familiar terms of "postoperative" and "preoperative" and things like that, and if he or she was dressed as a woman then you always refer to that gender. That's what they wanted. They wanted respect.
VC: Do you think the transgendered community is doing what it needs to do to understand what your responsibilities are as LAPD?
MD: I think they've become a little bit more accepting of LAPD, and not so afraid or put off by LAPD. There was a demonstration out in front of the station last year, and they were demonstrating against police abuse. I called Shirley [Bushnell, a transgendered activist] and I said, "Shirley, I thought we've come a long way, I realize we have a long way to go, but I thought we'd come a long way from this kind of thing." And she said, "There's still work to do," and I said, "Yeah, but why do you want to demonstrate in front of the station?" And she said that's a compliment, that they feel comfortable enough to come in front of Hollywood Station and demonstrate as to what their problems were. So they came and demonstrated, and I came out and talked to them, and they asked questions, and we had a good dialogue, and it actually was a good thing. It was their ability to express themselves through their First Amendment rights to come out and demonstrate about problems they have. It was a healthy demonstration in democracy.
VC: Where do you think we are when it comes to selective enforcement of lewd conduct laws in terms of gay men?
MD: When I first came to Hollywood there was more focus on that. I think [openly gay Deputy Chief] Dave Kalish came in and established a policy that we would follow. When there is so much blatant streetwalking prostitution that needs our attention, why are we going into adult bookstores and finding a lewd conduct suspect and arresting him? I think if you look at the stats, I think we are off like 60% of the lewd conduct arrests from 2001 from what we were the year before. Clearly our focus has shifted. However, in locations where there are still community complaints ... we have to address it somehow. Prevention is always the better way to do it. If prevention doesn't work through lighting, through mobilizing neighborhoods, through dialogue with different organizations to help us with the problem, then we still have to enforce it. But we're not out there pro-actively going into places trying to find lewd conduct.
VC: Would you not go into a private establishment to do a sting? Last year there were complaints from some gay and lesbian groups that the LAPD was going into sports clubs catering to the gay community in the Valley to make lewd conduct arrests.
MD: [I]f that's a public facility, if it was complained of by the public, then we have a responsibility to investigate it. Now our investigation is the full spectrum. We look at how we can prevent this from occurring, educating management and private security, meeting with community groups, and doing inspections ourselves, maybe doing undercover inspections, and I think that's what you are getting at. I don't think we'd be going in without a complaint. Now, we did this before, no doubt. If we wanted to get some of our numbers up, we'd go into bookstores, and different locations, and make these arrests. That did happen. Like I said, since Dave Kalish came in we've backed off a bit and gotten to the spirit of what it really is how can we prevent this from occurring.
VC: How is the LAPD handling the rising number of openly gay officers on the force?
MD: I think we've come a long way in terms of engagement, dialogue, tolerance, learning and adaptability. I think 10 years ago you'd never see uniformed LAPD in the gay [pride] parade. And now we see the benefits through recruiting, through hate crimes prevention, and through serving another large population in our city that needs to have a voice. I think in Hollywood Division, I've had several gay officers here, and I'd like to think this is a comfortable environment where they can develop to their fullest potential. I know we've had some bumps and bruises along the way, but I'd like to think this is a very accepting, tolerant division where people can develop where they want to be. ...