Story by Bella Utley, Contributing writer
The Murray State Office of LGBT Programming held a training event for public safety professionals on Oct. 24 to discuss topics such as misunderstanding, mistrust, discrimination and hate-motivated violence towards the LGBT community.
Representatives from Murray State’s Public Safety and Emergency Management, the Murray Police Department, the Calloway County Sheriff’s Office, the Paducah Police Department and West Kentucky Community and Technical College Security were in attendance.
“We use this as a time to bring someone in who has a career in law enforcement and a national reputation for talking to public safety, as one of them, about what it is like working with LGBT people, showing them issues that they should remember,” said Jody Cofer Randall, coordinator of LGBT Programming.
She said students may perceive safety and inclusion on campus one way, but in the community, it may be different. On campus, they may feel welcomed and supported, but not so much in the surrounding areas in the county.
“One of the most common things I see from LGBT people both from Murray State and western Kentucky is a deficiency in mental and medical help, as well as public safety,” Cofer Randall said. “Whether that is on the side of the LGBT people, or the side of the provider. Providers might know very little and not have much preparation working with LGBT people.”
She said this is an ongoing issue, especially nationwide concerning the relationship between people of color, LGBT and international individuals with law enforcement.
“We don’t want to see any targeting hate crimes that have happened in other places to play out in western Kentucky,” Cofer Randall said. “The least we could do is bring in a professional trainer to lay down the basics in order to give them that information.”
Brett Parson, a trainer during the session, said he has been serving the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. for more than two decades and has been in law enforcement for 30 years.
He tailors each training session to meet the needs of the audience so he could meet them at their comfort level and experience, according to his biography.
“Just because the police officers work with the public doesn’t meant they know everything,” Parson said. “Unfortunately in law enforcement, we don’t do a great job at training police officers about the communities they will be serving, especially the underserved marginalized parts of the community.”
James Herring, Public Safety’s chief of police, said members of the Murray State Police Department strive to be advocates for the entire community.
“We want any population that is historically underserved to see us as a resource and source of support,” Herring said. “This training helped us to understand how those in the LGBT community, especially transgender individuals, perceive police.”
He said these training sessions are part of new measures in developing relationships in order to build trust and ensure competency and tact when approaching groups and individuals.
Herring said he doesn’t want his officers to go into situations with good intentions but end up using inappropriate language that could sour the relationships before they are built.
“I hope that we can build a level of trust with the students in the LGBT community so that they could see us as their allies,” Herring said.