Hartford police officer acts as liaison to LGBTQ community
By KATHERINE BURNS
Aug. 07, 2017
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — As the city police department's LGBTQ liaison, Officer Kelly Baerga focuses on the public safety needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
And now with the recent launch of a liaison webpage, Baerga is hoping to create a more inclusive environment for all members of the LGBTQ community who come in contact with Hartford police.
The liaison position has existed at the department for some time, but Baerga took on the position in the last year. Baerga said she was suggested for the role by another officer, and she was happy to take it.
Baerga, 47, has been with the Hartford Police Department for the past 7 years. Before that, she was in the military for 20 years and worked for another police department in New Jersey. When she accepted the LGBTQ Liaison position a year ago, she came out to her colleagues in the department.
Since then, she said, other officers have come out, and many came to her for guidance and support in the challenges that come with that.
"I want to give other officers the courage to step out and feel safe doing so," Baerga said. "When I say that it's a lonely kind of journey, it is. We want people to know that there are others like us and that we are supportive of one another."
The liaison position is part-time, but Baerga said in the future, she would like to see it become full-time, and is working with the police chief toward that goal. She is also a member of the department's recruitment team and said her two roles go hand-in-hand. Baerga said she wants the department to reflect the diversity of the city of Hartford.
"I'm really trying to establish diversity not just in race," Baerga said.
Baerga has reached out to Officer Javier Pagan, the LGBTQ liaison for the Boston Police Department. That department has had a liaison position since the late 1980s, Pagan said, and he has held the position for 17 years. Pagan said he helped give Baerga a model of what might work for Hartford.
Pagan works with local LGBTQ organizations as well as helping with the Boston pride parade. He also has an LGBTQ public safety group that meets regularly in Boston. Baerga attended one of these meetings when she stepped into the position.
Baerga is working with young members of the LGBTQ community and mentoring them. She partners with True Colors Inc., an organization that works with LGBTQ youth. Shehelps the youth in the True Colors mentoring program learn how to interact with the police, said Robin MacHaelen, the executive director of True Colors.
"She's a role model for what's possible. Sometimes kids in the system think there are no options," MacHaelen said.
Baerga reached out to True Colors when the Hartford Police Department was writing a new policy on standard practices with the transgender community. MacHaelen said a group of members of the LGBTQ community came in to provide input on the policy, and the department implemented most of their suggestions.
The policy requires officers to address detainees by their chosen name and use the appropriate pronouns. It also states transgender people can request the gender of the officer searching them if search is required, and should have access to the restrooms that match their gender identity. Baerga said there are penalties in place for officers who don't comply with the policy, including possible suspension.
With this new policy in place, Baerga is working to educate current officers in the department on how to work with LGBTQ people, specifically transgender individuals, and the terminology surrounding that.
"It's never an easy situation when someone is being detained," Baerga said. "I certainly don't want (transgender people) to feel unsafe or like they don't have rights."
The new liaison webpage includes the department's new policies and Baerga's contact info. Baerga also added an informal community contact form for people to reach her, anonymously or otherwise, with comments or concerns. She said she wants to be a resource for those in the Hartford area who feel lost or alone.
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com