Members of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) will be the first to admit that law enforcement has a checkered history with the LGBT community.
But they also will tell you they’re using that shaky history to build a stronger future in Broward County.
On May 19, Sheriff Gregory Tony met with the community at The Pride Center. Tony, along with more than a dozen other members of the department, was there to address community concerns and layout plans for community relations. Part of the plan is the LGBTQ+ Liaison Committee. The group is made up of nine members from a variety of departments within the community. Before the meeting, committee member Paul Auerbach told SFGN that the goal of the evening was to let the community see who is standing up for them and learn how to serve better.
Tony pointed out that there are many cities and villages throughout Broward County, and that working together is critical.
“One of the things I wanted to do was invest in all of our cities, not just BSO. We’re just imaginary lines from jurisdiction. None of these lines really matter. We all live in one county. We all suffer the same.”
Part of his plan has been inviting members of all county area police departments to train in order to better connect with citizens. Tony said sometimes problems start because officers don’t understand, at first, the social situation they are responding to.
“If it’s a gay couple, a lesbian couple, the misnomers in communications. We understand, that although it may be done innocently, there is an impact. Our goal is to mitigate that impact through education.”
Everyone representing BSO was there voluntarily. One of them is 18-year force veteran Karla Sobenes-Desme. She said being a member of the committee is personally important.
“I’m part of the committee. My family is part of the LGBT community and this is very important to me. We can actually help the community, with law enforcement, and try to have some sort of openness.”
She is well aware of the often fraught relations between law enforcement and LGBT people.
“Historically, law enforcement has been very tactical when it comes to the community. I’m very interested and that’s why I decided to join. That’s why I’m here. Every time we do an event I come voluntarily. It’s in my heart. I want to be a part of it. I want to be the change that I would like to see.”
Tony also addressed concerns about 911 emergency response. He said work is underway to take them from being the lowest-paid 911 operators in South Florida to be the highest paid. That should help recruit talent going forward. He also wants to better address calls that deal with people facing mental health issues, saying arresting them can’t always be the answer.
“We don’t want to be a community where the only solution to deal with someone who suffers from mental health is to take them to jail. We do everyone a disservice with that mindset.”
While the meeting was held in Wilton Manors, the heart of Broward County’s LGBT community, BSO knows they need to reach beyond the invisible borders to other communities from Lauderdale By-the-Sea to Weston and everywhere in between.
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