Lansing Police Dept. appoints first-ever LGBT liaison

Openly lesbian detective hopes to strengthen department's commitment to gay community

by Todd A. Heywood

LANSING - When Capt. Ray Hall of the Lansing Police Department was a patrol officer, he was assigned to Lansing's Old Town area. At the time, it was mostly a run-down commercial zone, with empty buildings and reputation of being dangerous. But it was just starting its new life as the center of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activity and life. It was home to the Real World Emporium, a bookstore catering to the community, and Hall would have occasion to stop in and visit with staff and owners.

Those experiences taught Hall some valuable lessons about the community.

"At that time in my life journey I didn't know a whole lot about issues that effected our gay community," Hall said. "So I was educated and really made some friendships - long-lasting friendships."

Through those relationships, Hall went from being a patrol officer who blushed at books and images of the LGBT community to counting himself as an ally. Those friendships resulted in Hall becoming the police department's go-to man for the gay community.

"They would call me if they became the victim of a crime, or they needed to get a report, or just the customer service-type things and police related issues," Hall said.

"They didn't feel comfortable talking to their district driver and I thought, you know what? This needs to change. We really need to do more as an agency to reach out to our community."

Thus was born the new position of LGBT liaison, which will be filled by 17-year Lansing Police veteran Det. Michelle Bryant. Bryant has been a road officer, worked heavily in community policing and currently is the detective working on fraud investigations for the department. She is also recently out as lesbian.

"It's not a super-welcoming environment. It's a difficult field for women, let alone gay and lesbian officers," Bryant said. "I am not out there to be an activist."

Hall said he and Bryant had been discussing the liaison post for a year, and that during those conversations, Bryant came out to him.

For Hall, the creation of the LGBT liaison position is keeping with the department's community policing focus.

"Our current chief - Teresa Symanzki - is passionate about this issue. She embraces the community policing philosophy. She wants to make sure that everyone in our community not only knows, but feels that this is their police department, regardless of your sexual orientation. That shouldn't matter," Hall said.

"I think that it is an important step," he added. "I am glad it is coming to fruition. ... I just believe in the concept of reaching out to the community. Providing some support to the community. Having a liaison that people can approach."

In turn, Bryant hopes this will open a conduit to the community. She says in her experience the department is viewed favorably in the LGBT community, but she understands that there are those who might be reluctant to report crimes.

"Different people have different philosophies in life," Bryant said. "While they may not be comfortable calling and have an officer dispatched out, they may be comfortable calling a liaison and sitting down one on one to find out what the issue is, and then work through that issue together to find out if there is a crime, if it is prosecutable or if there are some other resources that are needed."

In preparation for the post, Bryant is being sent to Chicago this month for a training on the law enforcement issues and the LGBT community. That conference is being sponsored by The Lesbian and Gay Police Association /Gay Officers Action League of Chicago. Bryant said she will be marching in the Chicago Pride event wearing her Lansing Police uniform as part of the conference event. She is also working on creating a Gay Officers Action League for the state, which will include corrections officers as well as law enforcement.

Hall had intended to attend the conference as well, but due to budget constraints he said the department could only afford to send one person.

Bryant said Lansing is the third police agency in the state to implement an LGBT liaison position. The University of Michigan has one, as does the city of Detroit. She will be looking to other municipalities for tips and pointers as she gets the new position off the ground. She has already made contact with Chicago and Los Angeles.

Hall said his only regret is that it has taken so long to get the position in place.

"The gay and lesbian community are an important part of our community," he said. "The only drawback is that we didn't do this 10 years ago."

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