June 8 2011 12:00 AM

Lansing police authorizes necessary force at Michigan Pride


When Detective Michelle Bryant of the
Lansing Police Department announced the first-ever Lansing Police float
at 2011 Michigan Pride, she didn’t gush about it. Bryant, 43, is all cop
and nothing but cop.

“I have secured a float. I have secured a
vehicle to tow it with. I have secured a male police officer who will
be in uniform as the driver,” she announced in her column in the LGBT
News, published by the Lansing Association for Human Rights, as if she
were calling for backup.

And in a way, she is.

Last spring, Bryant became the force’s
first official liaison to the LGBT community. “Basically, I officially
outed myself by agreeing to take the position,” she said. “There’s
definitely some risk in it, but if people don’t stand up, it’s going to
take that much longer for things to change.”

As soon as Bryant became liaison officer,
she resolved to muster a detachment from the Lansing Police Department
for this year’s Michigan Pride parade — “not as traffic control, but as
true participants riding on a float supporting the LGBT community.”

In addition to the Lansing Police Department, the float
will represent the Michigan Gay Officers’ Action League, or MI-GOAL, a
statewide support group formed in 2010, and other area police
departments, although Bryant doesn’t know how many people will be on the
float yet.

“They’re doing this on their own time,”
Bryant said. “With layoffs going on, it’s hard to get people to go above
and beyond, but I’m pleasantly surprised how easy it has been to get

Bryant has been with the Lansing Police
18 years. She floated the idea of a liaison officer in Lansing after
going to conferences on law enforcement and LGBT issues in Chicago and
Palm Springs, Calif., involving a range of agencies, from police to

“It was very interesting meeting some of
the larger departments, like L.A. and Chicago, where people are much
more open-minded,” Bryant said. “I wanted to try to bring some of that
back to little old Lansing.”

Bryant said she hasn’t had “a single
negative response,” at least to her face. “I’ve had a number of people
say, ‘Good, it’s about time,’ although I’m sure there are a few
nay-sayers out there who don’t understand the need, or don’t care.”

Capt. Raymond Hall of the Lansing police, Bryant’s superior, enthusiastically backed the liaison idea.

“I can’t tell you how much I respect
Michelle for stepping forward,” Hall said. “Law enforcement culture is a
para-military organization. That took genuine guts.”

Hall, a 24-year veteran on the force,
walked the beat in Old Town in the 1980s, when a wave of gay and
lesbian-owned business started to revive a then-seedy district north of

Relations between police and the LGBT
community were at a low ebb. In the early 1980s, Lansing police officers
made entrapment arrests of gay men at Lansing bars. Older members of
the LGBT community recall harassment and neglect of gay and lesbian
crime victims.

“People would come into Old Town and harass them because they were gay or lesbian,” Hall said.

Hall came to Old Town when the memory of the worst abuses were fresh.

“When I was assigned to that area of town, my knowledge of gays and lesbians was almost nonexistent,” Hall said.

He was struck by the tenacity of Old Town’s urban pioneers, many of them from the gay and lesbian community.

“It was rough area, no nonsense policing.
Here comes these young folks with all of this energy, all of this
positive vision, I thought they were nuts.”

Hall said he made friends in Old Town and opened his eyes to a broader vision of civic pride.

“I was in the front row, watching not
only the physical transformation of Old Town, but of people’s attitudes
about the LGBT community,” he said.

“Every one of us identifies with Old Town now,” he said. “When we talk about Lansing, we think about Old Town and we’re proud.”

When Bryant came up with the liaison idea, Hall helped sell it to Lansing Police Chief Teresa Szymanski.

Although the worst abuses were in the
past, Hall said he knew there were LGBT people in Lansing who didn’t
report crimes, “fearing harassment, or disrespect from the criminal
justice system.”

“We talked about if for a couple of years,” Hall said. “We felt a need to reach out to LGBT community.”

Hall wanted to send a clear message that “complaints of bullying, intimidation, unfair treatment will not be brushed aside.”

“If it’s not a criminal matter, we will work with the liaison to get the right agencies involved,” he said.

He talked with Bryant to make sure she knew what she was getting into.

“I was asking quite a bit from her,” Hall
said of Bryant. “Being a liaison officer means you may be in a position
to talk about your personal relationships.”

Hall said Bryant takes all her responsibilities seriously, “and herself less seriously.”

“Michelle is dynamite,” Hall said. “She’s
an outstanding cop all the way around. She has a lot of tenacity when
she takes on a case.”

She described her new role in a characteristically workmanlike way.

“I’ve found that there are some LGBT
people who are victimized, not necessarily because of their orientation,
and were more comfortable talking to somebody who could understand a
little better,” she said.

Bryant sometimes steps in when the officer dispatched to a crime scene has to move on to another call.

“I might follow up with it, take a little
more time, and address the victim’s concerns, especially if there’s
some sensitivity to the matter,” she said.

As the city of Lansing tightens its budget, Bryant finds
herself wearing her liaison hat on top of her detective hat. She would
like to see the Lansing Police do more community-building and set up a
liaison office with full-time staff.

“Maybe down the road we can get there, but we’re taking small steps,” she said.