Police, LGBT community bonded through reported hate crime

2012-09-03T10:00:00Z 2013-04-18T10:26:16Z Police, LGBT community bonded through reported hate crimeBy JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Things could have turned out so much worse.

The powder keg certainly was stuffed with enough explosives to do considerable damage to the Lincoln Police Department, the gay and lesbian community and the city's reputation.

* Charlie Rogers, a 33-year-old lesbian woman, reported a horrific hate crime, saying three men came into her house while she slept and sliced anti-gay slurs into her skin.

* Thousands immediately denounced the attack and rallied to support Rogers.

* Police didn’t rule out the possibility that Rogers staged the attack and eventually arrested her, accusing her of lying to investigators.

In the face of intense media attention, locally and nationally, a potential black eye was avoided.

Police kept LGBT leaders abreast of their investigation. In turn, those leaders urged their community to support Rogers, each other and have faith in a department with a reputation for taking hate crimes seriously.

“There was not a single moment where I lacked trust,” said Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, a nonprofit group advocating for the LGBT community.

The department met with LGBT leaders three times after July 22, said Public Safety Director Tom Casady, to keep them informed of what was going on.

“It felt very collegial,” he added, which made one of the meetings a little awkward because it was organized by two mediators.

“But there really wasn’t anything to mediate,” Casady continued. “It was as if they had set up the meeting to bring two sides together but then realized there weren’t two sides. We all know each other fairly well. We’re all here for the same purpose.

“It was really, really gratifying to see that level of trust and collaboration.”

That trust and collaboration were hardened in the crucible of the Rogers investigation, but forged over the past two decades.

The department dedicated a liaison to communicate with the gay and lesbian community 10 to 15 years ago, Casady said.

Richard said the liaison, Capt. Marty Fehringer, frequently comes to the monthly meetings of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to talk about hate crimes and how officers deal with gays and lesbians.

“They’ve been very open to getting feedback and making sure their officers have an understanding from the chief down that they’re supposed to work with all populations and treat all populations with respect.”

Richard said Lincoln police are professional and added that he wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone to go to police to report a hate crime.

That’s music to Casady’s ears. To investigate and solve hate crimes, police first must know about them.

Lincoln police started tagging hate crimes before the law required it, and there are more reports than you might think. The city made up less than one-tenth of the state’s population in 2010, but according to the FBI’s last report on hate crime statistics, Lincoln recorded two-thirds of the state’s 61 hate crimes that year.

Those numbers are more or less the same as they were five years ago when Casady, then the police chief, wrote a blog post titled “Tip of the iceberg.” In it, he noted Lincoln reported more hate crimes than not only neighboring Omaha, which is more than twice as big, but much larger cities across the country as well.

“Now, if anyone really believes that Lincoln had more hate crimes than Atlanta, Denver, Omaha, St. Louis and most other cities way over our population ... you really need to get a grip on reality,” he wrote in the post.

After police arrested Rogers for allegedly making up the attack, LGBT leaders rallied to support each other. They also said in a news release that, whatever Rogers did or didn’t do, hate crimes happen in Lincoln, and that victims should report them to the same investigators who believe Rogers lied about an attack that captivated the country.

“Our recent experience gives us confidence that any crime in Lincoln will be thoroughly and fairly investigated.”

Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.

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