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Veteran Cleveland police officer is new LGBTQ liaison as city pushes to improve community relations

August 6, 2018

Veteran Cleveland police officer is new LGBTQ liaison as city pushes to improve community relations

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Veteran Cleveland police officer Deirdre Jones is a longtime advocate of building a better relationship between the city’s police officers and the LGBTQ community.

Now Jones will get to do so in an official capacity. Jones became the Cleveland police department’s first-ever LGBTQ liaison, a move the city hopes will help give a bigger voice to residents who feel they have no voice when dealing with police.

Jones, a commander in charge of the police academy, the personnel unit and budget policy, said she’s been teaching officers how to treat those in the LGBTQ community with respect and compassion for decades, usually one officer at a time. Now she has the chance to do that department-wide.

“The biggest thing I want to change is the perception that the community has when dealing with the police, which is very negative” Jones said. “There are a lot of younger officers coming up now that want to learn and want to show that they are supportive.”

Jones will be the point person between the LGBTQ community and police brass. As the first official liaison, she’ll help shape what that role means.

A 22-year veteran police officer who came out in the late 1980s while working for Cleveland EMS, Jones became known throughout the LGBTQ community as the sergeant in the police department’s domestic violence unit, said Greater Cleveland LGBTQ Center Executive Director Phyllis Cleveland. 

“In the domestic violence unit, I saw how a lot of those cases with LGBTQ victims were handled,” Jones said. “If the victim was uncooperative, they didn’t prosecute or you had police officers who were ignorant on how to interact with LGBTQ victims. I also found a lot of LGBTQ victims weren’t reporting (to police) because they were afraid that it wouldn’t be taken seriously or that they might be arrested. I want to change that.”

The city is looking to improve on the Human Rights Campaign’s ranking of cities’ inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community. The organization provides weighted scores for the nation’s largest cities on a variety of markers, including anti-discrimination laws for housing, city employment and transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for city employees.

Cleveland scored an 81, behind several other Ohio cities including Akron, Dayton, Columbus and Toledo. The Human Rights Campaign weighs having an LGBTQ liaison in the police department as the second most important aspect of a city’s inclusiveness.

Jones said she jumped at the chance to become the police department’s first liaison. She said she plans to use the position to keep the community informed. She’s already started in some capacity.

Two transgender women were killed in Cleveland in the first six months of the year, sparking concerns in the community that transgender people were being targeted for violence.

Jones, who was the first-ever woman to be put in charge of the department’s homicide unit, checked into the killings and found that in one case a woman was killed because of a drug debt and that in the other case a transgender woman was accused of taking part in the killing.

“There are always rumors and fears that LGBTQ persons are being targeted,” Jones said. “One of the first things I did was to look into that and be able to inform them that’s not what has been going on this year.”

She said her initial focus will be on pushing for the department’s administration to include yearly sensitivity training for all officers. She said she plans to visit several cities who have police liaisons to see what works best.

“I’m advocating for yearly LGBTQ training during our in-service training,” Jones said. “I also want LGBTQ officers to have a safe space to talk if they need any advice or have any issues.”

Mayor Frank Jackson also appointed Kevin Schmotzer as the city’s LGBTQ liaison. Schmotzer, who has worked for some two decades in the city’s economic development department, will continue to serve as the city’s executive director for small business development.

Schmotzer said he’s already had conversations with the city’s human resources department about including anti-discrimination policies in place for gender identity. The city does not have a policy that specifically spells that out.

“I’ve already had a discussion with human resources on that,” Schmotzer said. “Along with having someone as a liaison to the community, we also can work internally on something like that.” 

Cleveland, of the LGBTQ Center, said she began advocating for a police liaison four years ago.

“It takes more than one person in different areas,” Cleveland said. “The work still remains to be done but I certainly like the direction we are headed.” 

Cleveland said she was pleased with the appointment of both Schmotzer and Jones. She said Jones earned a reputation as being a resource for the LGBTQ community during her years as a sergeant in the domestic violence unit.

“She has a great history of service and is known in some circles in LGBTQ circles, especially because of her time in the domestic violence unit,” Cleveland said. “In those circles, we all knew we could call for her advice and training.”

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