Michigan’s largest county has formed a special unit focused on solving and prosecuting crimes against LGBT people.
The unit in Wayne County will focus first on prosecuting a dozen current cases – including six murders -- and re-opening three unsolved “cold cases” in Detroit.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says crimes against LGBT people often go unreported and can be more difficult than other cases to solve. “Sometimes people in the LGBT community are afraid to come forward for various reasons,” she said at a news conference to announce the unit,” she said.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig agreed LGBT victims and witnesses are often afraid to work with authorities. He says a key part if the effort is making people feel safe if they cooperate with investigations. “Basically, it’s just simply relationships,” he said, “and when you have relationships with all your communities, that is how we solve crimes. There’s no magic to it.”
The project is paid through a private fundraising campaign by the Fair Michigan Foundation.
Attorney Dana Nessel formed the organization after spearheading the legal effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Michigan. She also led the effort to launch a ballot campaign to add LGBT protections to the equal protection clause of the Michigan Constitution. That effort was opposed by much of Michigan’s LGBT advocacy community, in part, because of concerns that a high-profile political campaign might incite violence against LGBT people.
The ballot effort fizzled, but Nessel said that convinced her something needed to be done. “I think there’s been an incredible spotlight on the community with or without a ballot initiative in place…” she said. “So, we wanted to assist the community in whatever way we could so they would feel like they were protected and their concerns would be would be heard by law enforcement, they would feel like they had a friend in law enforcement.”
Nessel says she hopes the Wayne County unit will inspire similar units in other police departments and prosecutor’s offices. The foundation hopes the Wayne County unit will serve as a national model.