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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
As law enforcement agencies across the nation deal with recruitment challenges, many are reaching out to previously underrepresented communities. One that is getting more attention is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) community.
In addition to finding good candidates among its members, agencies are realizing other benefits—such as improved relationships with previously underserved members of this community and, in many cases, a better work environment in which LGBTQ people feel free to express themselves.
But unlike racial or religious minorities, who can often be more easily identified, LGBTQ people may be difficult to reach. And convincing them that they would be welcome and even thrive in a profession that has disrespected them in the past takes some doing.
The need to adopt new recruitment methods to attract LGBTQ individuals was a topic discussed at length in a 2016 law enforcement forum on recruitment in the 21st century hosted by the COPS Office and Strategic Applications International (SAI).
Forum member William Shepard of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), who is also a member of the Gay Officers Action League New York (GOAL NY), pointed out that simply “changing photos, putting gender on the paperwork, and creating forums for discussion has created a good critical mass of transgender people joining the police department.”
But forum members agreed that more changes in policies and practices are needed, not only to recruit from the LGBTQ community, but also to promote a departmental culture in which people of all sexual orientations and identities can thrive. To achieve this, they suggested additional actions:
Since the forum met, these and similar practices have been successfully adopted by several law enforcement agencies. Among them is the San Jose (California) Police Department (SJPD). In 2016, then Chief Eddie Garcia and his staff developed a recruitment campaign that included posters and videos featuring same-sex partners with a message designed to resonate with lesbian and gay individuals.
In an August 25, 2017 article published by Coming Out from Behind the Badge, Chief Garcia commented, “It’s one thing to put some generic ‘all minority applicants are encouraged to apply’ message on a recruitment flier and quite another to design one that messages a specific minority group with a direct call to apply.
“This is how departments should be designing recruitment campaigns for all groups underrepresented in the rank and file,” he added. “Potential applicants need to see themselves in the images used, and the text should call to them specifically. If you want lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender applicants, then say it.”
Said James Gonzales, LGBTQ+ Liaison Officer for SJPD, “It was the first time that same-sex couples were shown in a positive way in any law enforcement communications—and as police families, too. Our campaign showed uniformed lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples, all visibly affectionate with each other in their home settings.”
Said Officer Gonzales, “It not only sent the message that we value all families to the public, but to the people in our department, as well. At that time, I was the only sworn person who was out. Since then, more are serving openly. We knew we had work to do, that our profession as a whole doesn’t allow people to be as comfortable as they should be. That has changed at SJPD.
“The response from the San Jose community was extremely positive,” he adds. “People have walked up to us to say how blown away they were that a police department would embrace the LGBTQ community in such a forward way.”
To support the agency’s recruiting efforts, Chief Garcia also created the LGBTQ+ Liaison position, which Officer Gonzales filled. In addition to serving as a point of contact for recruitment, his unit helps in efforts to build trust among people of different sexual orientations in the department, as well as in the San Jose community.
The SJPD also has an LGBTQ advisory board composed of LGBTQ community members and SJPD employees as well as representatives from other government agencies. The board meets with SJPD’s chief to discuss police policies and other concerns, enabling ongoing communication and helping to foster an inclusive workplace.
Adding new recruitment procedures and changing the departmental culture may take time, but the benefits can greatly outweigh the effort. LGBTQ people can add value to a law enforcement workforce in many ways, perhaps most importantly by helping to create a culture of tolerance, open-mindedness, and respect for differences.
In a July 18, 2018 article in the Advocate, Brian E. Downey, current president of GOAL NY, pointed out that interacting with LGBTQ cops helps straight officers interact with LGBTQ civilians, too.
“We educate one another,” he explains. “On religion, on social status, on class, on where people come from, on where people have been, various unique life experiences. It’s a win-win.”
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
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