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By Lori Atherton
January 28, 2016
Detroit Police Officer Danielle Woods recalls responding to a domestic violence disturbance in 2006 that was between two females who were romantically involved. Her male partner at the time made an offensive remark about the couple's sexual orientation. So upset was Woods, an openly gay woman, that she approached her boss about the need for a community liaison officer for the LGBT community.
Woods was appointed the Detroit Police Department's LGBT liaison officer in 2013, when Detroit Police Chief James Craig took office. "He saw to it that I hit the ground running," said Woods, who visited Michigan Law for a talk sponsored by Outlaws, the Law School's LGBTQ student organization. She attributes a "cultural shift, both within the police department and within society," as the reason it took years for the LGBT liaison role to come to fruition.
A 15-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department, Woods said her role as LGBT liaison is to "serve as a bridge between the LGBT community and the police department," helping to build mutual trust, respect, and understanding between the two groups. She works closely with LGBT organizations within Detroit and surrounding areas, including Equality Michigan, the Ruth Ellis Center, Affirmations, and LGBT Detroit, and serves on an LGBT advisory board whose goal is to advocate for the LGBT community and make sure their concerns are heard.
In addition, Woods works to ensure that LGBT people feel safe and protected, particularly when they report crimes. "It's hard for people to come forward, especially with crimes involving LGBT members," said Woods, citing an area in Detroit known for prostitution involving transgender women. "There are a lot of crimes that occur in that area, and even with police enforcement, the girls won't come forward. My job is to assure them that they can be protected, regardless of what occurred before, and that they need to come forward if they've been victimized. It's ensuring their safety and making sure they get what they need from the police department."
Being an openly gay woman, Woods said, gives her credibility within the LGBT community and has helped her to foster trust with a population that historically has felt mistrust toward law enforcement.
"You have to live this life," Woods said, "and because I wear both hats, I can say to the LGBT community, this is what the police are saying and this is what it means, and I can say to the police, this is what the community is saying and this is what it means."
Within the Detroit Police Department, Woods—who is married to a female officer in the department—has been educating fellow officers on LGBT culture through mandatory sensitivity training, which includes an introduction to LGBT terminology and a discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Woods also discusses the department's directive that holds officers accountable for mistreatment of the LGBT community. "My main objective with the training," Woods said, "is to educate our officers, get some understanding and respect for the LGBT community, and aid in the department's progression and support of the LGBT movement."
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