Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) is announcing that it has created the position of LGBTQ Liaison for the department, joining a handful of MNPD officials tasked with outreach to Nashville’s minority communities. Since November, Officer Catie Poole has held this position, quietly beginning to meet with local LGBTQ groups and leaders, and to familiarize fellow officers with her new role.
The appointment of an officer whose sole role is to act in the capacity of a liaison to the community, however, marks a bold new commitment on the part of the department. With this appointment, too, Nashville joins many other major metropolitan police departments in having such a liaison: cities from Seattle to Atlanta and Annapolis have had officers in such roles for some time, cities like New York and Washington, D.C., have units devoted to the task.
While this is a big step forward for MNPD, and represents the culmination of years of discussion, building upon the community engagement undertaken by LGBTQ leaders within the department. Individuals such as Lieutenant Dave Leavitt and Commander Kay Lokey have often assisted when potential difficulties arose between the department and the community.
“Obviously, this has been in the works for a while now, recent events have kind of expedited the process and brought it back into the forefront of discussion,” Poole explained. “Ultimately, the goal is to improve the community relations with LGBT community.”
Poole, who identifies as a lesbian, was identified by the department’s leadership as an ideal candidate for the position, as she is both sensitive to the concerns of the community and has shown herself to be a model officer during her five-and-a-half years of service.
When asked why she thought she was chosen, Poole answered modestly. “I honestly don’t know but when they offered it to me, I jumped on it. I was excited about it from the get-go, so I’m honored asked to do it.”
Deputy Chief John Drake, head of the Support Services Bureau, however, said, “It’s a start-up program and we wanted someone good, energetic, knowledgeable of the entire community, especially the LGBTQ community’s needs, and she was perfect! She’s been a good officer. On top of her work as a patrol officer, she was already doing community outreach, and I knew she would rise to the challenge.”
As liaison, Poole has set three distinct goals for herself as she gets the program started. “One will be to be focused on the community—getting involved with the numerous groups around here, getting to know them personally and to be able to be there for them as a resource… They’ll have my contact information personally, and not just the community groups, but also individuals in the community.”
Officer Poole wants community members to know they can contact her directly if they have concerns about coming to the department generally. Though she believes the department is widely accepting of LGBT people, she understands this is not the common perception and she wants individuals to feel comfortable coming to her as a mediator. This leads to her other focuses.
In the coming months, Poole hopes to launch a “Safe Place” program, modeled on a program started in Seattle. The program was initially created out “ to address the hate crime issue… hate crimes are one of the most under reported crimes out there.” Not only is the topic a touchy one, but often the victims are uncomfortable reporting.
The department will be producing material encouraging reporting—including a rainbow decal with a badge that advertises ways to contact the department via phone or a new website soon to be unveiled for the purpose of facilitating reporting.
“The website that we will be creating here with the launch of the program,” she said, “is meant to promote the reporting of hate crimes across all minority groups… The safe place program will … also give them a safe place of refuge… Participating businesses will put the rainbow decals on their front window in a very prominent location so that people know they can go into a location as a place of safety and seek help in contacting the authorities. This is meant to comfort victims who may have a negative impression of the police, people who have perhaps even fled war and violence, and to give them a safe place to stay.”
The program has been successful in Seattle. Since the program was initiated, there has been around a 600% increase in hate crime reporting.
Poole’s third goal is to serve the department internally as a resource for fellow LGBTQ officers. “I want them to know that if there is something going on, there is someone they can reach out to in confidentiality, and we can correct the problem.”
Poole has appeared at local events already, such as the Chamber’s holiday party, but she is still making her rounds and familiarizing groups with her presence and her new role. She’s also working to familiarize fellow officers with her role, and the role she can play in their work, such as acting as a resource when working with LGBTQ victims or people in need. She had already begun to play that role with officers familiar with her work.
In the coming months, as more initiatives come online from MNPD’s LGBTQ Liaison come online, O&AN will provide more information. Look for our February issue for a longer, more in-depth and personal interview with Officer Poole.
Watch a video of Officer Poole Here:
And for more coverage of MNPD’s LGBTQ leadership, see:
LT. Dave Leavitt Church Street Blues: Openly gay police lieutenant changes attitudes
Commander Lokey: There’s a new ‘sheriff’ on Church Street