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LGBTQI group and police strengthen alliances

Thursday, April 13, 2017

As a second phase of the community safety campaign they launched on March 23, the Alliance for Justice & Diversity (a coalition of LGBTQI and feminist NGOs) met last week with Deputy Police Commissioner Harold Phillip, along with the Police Academy provost and other senior TTPS officials, in a historic session aimed at cooperation in strengthening policing.

In a release, Womantra co-director Khadija Sinanan, one of four advocates attending, summed up the April 5 meeting as “a very promising engagement with receptive leaders of the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service. The goal on both sides was to improve how TTPS can serve, protect and restore the confidence of members of LGBTQI communities.”

The groups’ engagement with police was the fruit of a multi-year process the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) has led at strengthening relationships between police leadership and NGOs through a series of quarterly meetings. The LGBTQI groups used that channel to reach out to Acting Commissioner Williams, who assigned DCP Phillip to build a TTPS liaison with them, respond to their concerns, and develop action steps.

“The primary thrust was to help us understand how the Service works, how it deals with policing issues that affect us, and who we can engage to ensure good policing or address bad policing,” said Colin Robinson, director of Alliance member Caiso: Sex & Gender Justice, which recently shortened its name. “We asked police to provide us with a trustworthy and stigma-free channel to report crimes.”

Additional areas in which police committed to work with LGBTQI communities were on:

• further meetings and linkages with key police personnel

• feasible changes to existing policing procedures that would strengthen how TTPS understands and investigates gender-based, sexual and hate violence—including the possible creation of a broad special victims unit

• a future review of five recent murder cases to ensure LGBTQI communities have responsible and accurate public information about any patterns or threats of violence, and to enable community members’ contributions to the solution of cases still open

• inclusion of LGBTQI communities in criminology research participation in how the Police Academy assesses and continuously improves its existing training on sexuality and gender.

This last initiative is a key component of the Alliance’s safety campaign. The groups, working with the Equal Opportunity Commission and the University of the West Indies, and with the support of the European Union, hope to partner with the Academy and TTPS human resources managers to strengthen how the Service prepares officers to police domestic and bias violence. 4

“We’re working to improve policing, to make people safe” said law student Terry-Ann Roy, “not make them scared.” Roy, 25, is one of several young people leading T&T’s youngest LGBTQI NGO, I Am One.

She recently a forum on April 8 in which the Alliance talked with community members about their meeting with police. She’s not fond of the sensationalism around crime and violence affecting community members.

“What we owe each other are facts, change, and leadership that makes us safe. And a lot less drama.”

The groups also responded to a gay police corporal’s recent testimony to news media about rising, unsolved murders and attacks targeting gay men, and officers who shame LGBTQI crime victims and fail to take or investigate reports.

They pleaded with the officer and all others to share concrete, specific details of all such issues with them at [email protected].

“It’s critical that the media and whistleblowers hold police accountable,” Robinson said, “but much of what we hear is lots and lots of rumours and allegations, and very few facts or firsthand accounts.

“Our forum Saturday showed how much the mistrust our communities have of policing makes us vulnerable—not to criminals, but to fear and rumour. We’ve reached out to gay officers in recent weeks without success. We ought to be all working together to fix this.

“It was a really different response from 2007 when we were sending police phone numbers, addresses and descriptions of criminals who were using shame to assault, rob and blackmail people too scared to go to the police, and nothing was happening,” said Luke Sinnette, who attended the two-hour meeting at Police Administration Building.

A social worker with the 20-year-old group Friends for Life, Sinnette has urged LGBTQI people who have been victims of crime to seek support and counselling by calling the organisation at 681-4150, to confidentially report their experiences of crime and violence, and to name the perpetrators in order to protect others.

The Alliance groups, which include the Silver Lining Foundation and the Women’s Caucus of T&T, saluted the lessons they were taught by non-LGBTQI allies about how to achieve better policing.

“The TTPS faces enormous challenges across the board in delivering good policing. The people in it, we discovered, are surprisingly human. Our goal is to help them protect and serve everybody.”