Police Show Video on Gay Sensitivity for Officer Training

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Several police chiefs joined with the Orange County Human Relations Commission on Tuesday to release a video that will be used to help train officers in how to use sensitivity in their work with lesbians and gays.

Fran Williams, chair of the human relations commission, described the 16-minute film as "groundbreaking and . . . making history in Orange County."

The film includes dramatic scenes with real victims of homophobic hate crimes.

In one, a young Westminster man, who is gay, describes an attack.

"They told me they were looking to talk to someone else who was (gay). Then in a split moment they turned," he said.

"I believe that all along their intent was to victimize me, was to rob me, my property . . .," he said, his voice trailing off.

Cut to a young woman, who relates a story about how she was attacked by a stranger, who ambushed her and a girlfriend in a nightclub parking lot and bashed their cars.

"The problem I had was someone who didn't know me and had never met me before had sought me out and looked to hurt me and damage my property," she said. "To me, that's a hate crime."

These dramatic reflections appear along with interviews with Orange County police officers and parents of gays and lesbians.

Almost immediately after the film's showing, about 40 police training officers from departments across the county gathered in a separate building at the Orange County sheriff's headquarters to receive instructions about how to make best use of the 16-minute training film and how police should handle encounters with lesbians and gays.

The county's police chiefs have decided to use the film in training programs and to show it occasionally during routine roll calls, said Laguna Beach Police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr.

The Orange County Human Relations Commission decided to produce the film two years ago after an article in the official newsletter of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs made derogatory remarks about gays.

That article, written by Deputy Agustin Alvarez, alluded to the changing definitions of some words and phrases and stated: "The classic is 'homophobic' which means that you can't dislike homosexuals. . . . When I worked sex crimes and would arrest homosexuals for molesting little boys, was I being homophobic or just competent?"

In the film, Placentia Police Chief Manuel Ortega said officers needed to learn about gay and lesbian issues because "the simple matter is we have a responsibility to serve all of the people."

Parents of homosexuals also appear in the film, asking for understanding and sensitivity toward their gay and lesbian children. In an interview, a mother of four sons, including two identical twins who are gay, said she wants "to do everything I can to help make this a better place for my children."

Another mother relates how she told a church friend that his constant jokes about homosexuals offended her, adding that "nothing hurts a parent more than to hear your child called bad names."

"The Laguna Beach department prohibits officers from using derogatory language describing gays," Purcell said, because "if they're allowed to say it here, they will say it in the field."

And Lt. Andy Hall of Westminster admonished officers to practice similar etiquette even when they are off duty. "There's no way we can sit and talk about 'fags' and . . . not let it show in the way we treat people" on the job, Hall said.

Tuesday's ceremony at the sheriff's headquarters was attended by several senior law enforcement officials including Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, Undersheriff Raul A. Ramos, several police chiefs and division commanders.

Human Relations Commission Chairwoman Williams described the film as "a catalyst to break stereotypes about gays and lesbians."

Also interviewed in the film were two openly gay officers from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Purcell said the film featured no gay officers from Orange County because "gay officers who have confided in me say Orange County is not ready for it yet. They still live in fear of retaliation and . . . fear of not being promoted in their department. But the day is coming closer. . . . "

Gay activists said they were generally pleased with the efforts by the human relations commission and police in making the training video.

"I have a lot of faith that this video will do a lot of good to educate people about the facts of homosexuality," said Mission Viejo resident Elena Layland, a former president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "I feel Orange County is safer for my son and all my friends who are gays and lesbians."

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