The Idaho Legislature has yet to “add the words” — that is, add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to protections in the state’s Human Rights Act.
But 12 Idaho cities, including Boise, have ordinances that protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. The Boise Police Department’s recent appointment of Idaho’s first LGBT liaison officer, who joins an LGBT community liaison already on staff, continues that progressive trend.
Officer Dan Lister will mark his 13th anniversary with the department this fall. His father was a Boise police officer who served 33 years with the department.
“I saw how he was able to help people,” said Lister. “He thought that everyone deserved a fair shake.”
Lister, a Boise native, is not gay. He and his wife, Cait, who works in progressive politics, have two children. He didn’t receive special training to become a liaison officer, but he has friends and family in the LGBT community. He became interested in LGBT outreach after reading an article that said members of that community often feel hesitant to report crimes to the police for fear police will treat them poorly.
Ultimately, said Lister: “All patrol officers want to do their jobs. We’re here for everyone. People not feeling safe, feeling that they’ll be victimized two times if they go to the police, is not alright.”
12 Idaho cities have enacted nondiscrimination ordinances: Bellevue, Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Driggs, Hailey, Idaho Falls, Ketchum, Lewiston, Moscow, Pocatello, Sandpoint and Victor.
In practice, all officers on the force respond to issues across Boise’s many cultures. And Lister is a normal patrol officer. But his additional role as a liaison places him as a point person whose work includes building ties between the department and the community and being a resource for other officers. As an officer, he will complement the work of Natalie Monro, a victim witness coordinator with the department who has been acting as an LGBT liaison.
In his first year as a liaison, Lister has met with the LGBT community to explain his role and field questions. Some of those questions concerned civil disobedience, as when police arrested protesters during Add the Words demonstrations at the Capitol.
“I told them that I understand they’re doing what they feel is right, but police have to do their job,” said Lister. “No one can break the law, even if police understand the reasons they do.”
All part of the same community
Police Chief Bill Bones said he created the new post in response to that longstanding mistrust of police.
“That’s based, frankly, on how they have been treated in years past. The problem has been more national than local, but I’m not going to say there haven’t been inappropriate responses locally,” said Bones.
Steve Martin, regional development organizer for the Pride Foundation, agreed about the existence of a “general fear and mistrust among minorities.”
“If there is a crime you might be less inclined to call the police because you’re not sure how you’ll be treated, or about your safety,” Martin said.
Bones had noted low numbers of LGBT Boiseans reporting crimes — including “everyday” crimes that have nothing to do with gender identity and sexuality, such as battery and domestic violence. That didn’t make sense to him. He did some research on liaison officers in other cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Portland.
“But we depended more on the idea that this is Boise, Idaho, and we’re all part of the same community. We try to build the same outreach, whether it’s in the North End or the Muslim community,” Bones said.
“If crimes are happening and not being reported, then we’re not serving, and that’s not acceptable.”
The department also recently appointed liaison officers for the local NAACP and the Latino community. A refugee outreach officer has been on staff for close to a decade. Bones said the department is considering a liaison to Muslims, but current refugee liaison Dustin Robinson has already built strong ties there.
Any officer wants to be there. There’s no reason not to come to the police for help.
LGBT Liaison Officer Dan Lister
Bones said the department’s meetings and increased interactions with LGBT community groups have been opportunities for education.
“Like looking more at the city protection ordinance, and the barriers some people face. Those are barriers we hadn’t thought about, being afraid of losing a house or a job because of gender and sexual identity,” Bones said.
Martin is hopeful about the progressive thinking of city leaders. When the city was interviewing for a new police chief after the retirement of Mike Masterson, City Councilwoman Maryanne Jordan invited Martin and others from minority communities to participate in the interview process. Martin now hopes that having a liaison officer on staff will build communication between the police and the LGBT community, and that the Boise Police Department might take what it’s learned and educate departments in other cities.
Masterson began a tradition of having new graduates of BPD’s advanced academy gather at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial at the end of their training. Both he and Bones have invited representatives from marginalized communities in the city to speak at the ceremony. Martin has spoken on three occasions.
“The chief reminds them that the people represented at the memorial are the people they will meet and the people they need to respect,” Martin said.
It’s too early to measure the effects of having an LGBT liaison, but Bones said reaction has been positive so far, even in his casual walks downtown, meeting with LGBT groups or just stopping to chat. People have told him they feel safer during the annual Pridefest parade and other events than they have in the past.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, no, the police are here,’ ” Bones said. “But we know we still have work to do. You don’t just change 200 years of discrimination.”
LGBT-related calls in Boise
Boise police handled two crimes in 2015 that were recorded as being related to anti-LGBT actions. They were a misdemeanor battery and an intimidation case.
There have been no anti-LGBT-related crimes reported so far in 2016.