Since the launch of the Safe Olympia program last summer, the Olympia Police Department’s LGBTQ outreach program has expanded rapidly.
More than 40 businesses have signed on to the program, which provides safe havens for victims of hate crimes, and Sgt. Ren Emerson said the list keeps growing.
Now, the department has two LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) liaisons. Officer Shelby Nutter joined Emerson in the position Jan. 1.
“I’ve always been passionate about fair policing,” Nutter said. “So this seemed like a good fit.”
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Nutter joined the Police Department in 2003 after graduating from the University of Washington. Emerson joined that same year.
Nutter works in the patrol division, and Emerson is a jail sergeant.
The duo has participated in extensive training about how to better serve the LGBTQ population, and they’ll conduct training for other officers in coming months.
Nutter said they’ll start at a foundation level: what different terms mean, which words can be offensive, how to use gender pronouns in a sensitive way.
They’re also working with community LGBTQ groups, including Pizza Klatch and PFLAG.
“What we really want is for people in the LGBTQ community to know that they have allies in the Police Department,” Emerson said.
Lately, community groups have been asking about gender neutral restrooms, and whether officers will know what to do when questions or disputes arise.
Nutter said she would advise officers to stay as neutral as possible, while making sure that people are able to use the restroom that matches their gender expression.
“That’s the law, and we have to make sure it’s followed,” Nutter said.
Recruiting businesses for Safe Olympia also is a priority. Participating businesses range from restaurants and bars to retail stores and medical offices. They are labeled with window clings and posters that ensure help when it’s needed.
Emerson said that the program isn’t just for victims of hate crimes — it’s there for any victims of violence.
For example, a developmentally disabled man recognized the logo and asked a business for help. Police were able to contact his mother.
While the response to Safe Olympia has been great, Emerson said, they’re still trying to recruit businesses.
“Sometimes we’ll go to a business and they’ll say, ‘We were waiting for you to come by,’ ” Emerson said. “But they don’t have to wait. They can contact us.”
Emerson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Nutter can be reached at email@example.com.
To learn more about Safe Olympia, visit olympiawa.gov/safeolympia.