by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Earlier this week, the six-month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida took place, and Seattle had something to contribute. The city of Orlando announced an initiative on December 12 called Safe Place, a rainbow-colored police-badge decal on windows or front doors of businesses and organizations that will signify a location where a victim can go to feel safe. A victim, business owner, or employee can call 911 and a police officer will respond.
If the program seems familiar to you, that is because Safe Place is a program that SPD LGBTQ Liaison Officer Jim Ritter developed with the help of community groups like Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea); it went into effect in May 2015. Since then, the program has been adopted by police departments around the nation and even as far away as Japan.
However, few of those locations are as meaningful as Orlando, where the LGBTQ and Latino communities experienced a deadly mass shooting attack in which 49 were killed and as many as 68 people were injured when a man walked into the Pulse nightclub and opened fire. It was the worst mass shooting incident in our nation's recent history.
While there is no evidence that a program like Safe Place would have stopped such a tragedy, the fact that this program brings the City of Orlando, its police department, and the members of its LGBTQ community closer together is a step in the right direction, considering that many police departments and LGBTQ communities have never been aligned.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, 'Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan said she's never really felt safe as a member of Orlando's gay community. But now Sheehan and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people who feel threatened or are victims of crimes will have a harbor.'
'I honestly always thought that I would be a victim of violence, and I'm very grateful that I was not,' Sheehan said. 'What we are asking for is a safe haven. There are those that will victimize us for who we are.'
At the December 12 ceremony announcing the launch of Safe Place, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, 'We thought it would be fitting today to announce an initiative that aligned with our pledge to ensure that inclusion and the embracing of diversity and safety are the hallmarks of Orlando.'
Orlando police Chief John Mina said Safe Place is an extension of the community being the department's eyes and ears.
'When hate crimes, discrimination, harassment occur, those are things that need to be addressed collectively, not separately,' he said. 'Since the horrific tragedy six months ago, we saw our community come together in unity, love, and support, and this just reinforces that love and support.'
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the LGBT Center of Orlando was the first establishment to receive the decal. All public city buildings also will have them.
'It's important to have a program, because even if it's just optics, it says you are safe here,' Sheehan said. 'That's what diverse communities do. For my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community, this is important to us because of what happened to us [at Pulse].'
Seattle's Safe Place Program has been a success in that many LGBTQ community members who felt apprehensive about reporting a crime to SPD can simply go to http://www.seattle.gov/spd-safe-place/ and fill out a contact form in which they report any incident to Officer Ritter. Although the form is not considered a police report, Ritter has the opportunity to speak with the person, meet with victims, and help them report the incident and seek justice, or just answer any questions they might have. To date, there has not been one example recorded in which a person seeking refuge or support from a business that displayed the Safe Place decal has not received it.
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