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Milwaukee Police Department launches a new safety initiative for the LGBTQ+ community

Kobe Brown
Police Chief Jeffrey Norman and Mayor Cavalier Johnson speak in front of Iron Horse Hotel.

On Monday, Milwaukee officials launched a public safety initiative called the Safe Place Program.

It's designed to help members of the LGBTQ+ community, people who've been victimized by human trafficking and other underrepresented groups. The program asks businesses to display an MPD SAFE PLACE decal. The sticker means the business will assist in the safety and security of people who enter seeking help.

Sargent Guadalupe Velasquez is one of two Milwaukee Police Department liaisons for the program.

"Anywhere you see the logo, this is somebody that's worked with the Police Department to tell that person, like, hey, we're going to keep you safe until you're able to connect with a law enforcement officer. So, I think it's just a great message letting them know that, hey, like, the Police Department understands that there's specific needs within the community and we're getting educated, so we can better serve that community," says Velasquez.

The program is part of a national effort based in Seattle. According to the Safe Place website, a business must meet several requirements if it wants to participate. They include applying the decal at the entrance, creating a public space that can be easily accessible, and allowing people to enter and remain until police arrive.

Although the city is trying to look toward the future, Velasquez acknowledged the relationship between police and the LGBTQ+ community has been volatile at times. But Velasquez says MPD has been able to develop some partnerships with the community, including through Milwaukee Pride festival.

A news conference announcing the Safe Place initiative was held at the Iron Horse Hotel, which became the first business to sign on.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Police Chief Jeffrey Norman were there. Reporters asked them about the safety of local LGBTQ+ people in the wake of the deaths of two transgender women. Recent conversations on social media have asked the same question, as a Netflix series about Jeffrey Dahmer has brought renewed attention to police actions surrounding the serial killer's case.

Johnson and Norman said there's trust to be built between police and the LGBTQ+ community. But Johnson says Milwaukee is a different city than it was when Dahmer was arrested in 1991.

"It's a whole different Police Department. You get a new chief. He's the chief who understands the diversity of our city and is open to that. You've got one of his lieutenants that brought up, you know, this idea to create a stronger connection with the LGBT community and have spaces for them to go to if they feel threatened. And that worked its way up through the executive command staff," says Johnson.

Chief Norman added that the Safe Place program is not in response to concerns voiced recently about the safety of LGBTQ+ people in Milwaukee. The effort to get it up and running locally began a few years ago.

Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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