26Health Co-Sponsors Hate Crime Symposium for Local Law Enforcement

by Liyya Hassanali

26Health was a co-sponsor of the Hate Crime Symposium: Creating Safer Communities held March 25, 2021 at the Rosen Plaza. The Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) of Central Florida organized the event. The Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Police Department also co-sponsored the event.

The symposium was in the works for well over a year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing back the date three times. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, GOAL and the event sponsors agreed that the information the symposium would be presenting was essential and remained committed to hosting the symposium in Orlando.

Dr. David Baker-Hargrove, President, Co-CEO, and Co-Founder of 26Health explained the clinic’s involvement. “We really like to be very involved in organizations and events and things that are going on in the community. It’s just also just part of our philosophy to the community, not just in service, but also in other people’s service. This symposium was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that support.”

Taking a Fresh Look at Hate Crime Response

While hate crimes in Florida have decreased slightly year over year, our state traditionally under-reports these numbers. This includes hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. GOAL saw the symposium as an opportunity to help educate police officers and improve law enforcement relations with minority communities. The symposium also included an overview of state and federal hate crime laws and statutes, investigative procedures and reporting, and education on how to best engage with victims in ways that are compassionate, respectful, and build trust. A similar event hosted by the Matthew Shepard Foundation helped model the symposium.

Grace Peek-Harris, a retired Master Sergeant at the Orlando Police Department at City of Orlando/LGBT Liaison and event organizer, comments: “The symposium was an opportunity to share information and address a lot of misconceptions that have to do with hate crimes. I attended a similar event in Tampa several years ago and thought it would be a great training to bring to Orlando at some point.”

Recognizing Hate Crimes

As an advocate and supporter of the Orlando LGBTQ+ community, 26Health was eager to get behind this initiative. We have witnessed first-hand how traumatizing hate crimes can be for minority communities, even when we aren’t victims ourselves. It is our hope that educating law enforcement officers on how to recognize and investigate hate crimes in ways that don’t minimize the experience of or alienate victims can help affected communities build trust in law enforcement. Perhaps this increase in trust can ultimately lead to increased reporting of and prosecution for hate crimes.

“Hate crimes happen to everyone, not just LGBTQ+. So our approach to the symposium was to go over the laws and how to investigate hate crimes. I had been a police officer for almost 18 years before I received any kind of hate crime training. That’s why I thought it was important that we bring this symposium to Orlando.

If we can train the younger officers to know the questions that they should ask and how to talk to people who are victims of hate crimes I think that goes a long way toward building understanding and empathy between officers and victims,” explained Peek-Harris.

Future Plans

This was the first symposium of this type to be offered in Orlando, but probably not the last. Event organizers reported approximately 100 attendees from law enforcement departments, community organizations, and legal firms across Central Florida.

“This was our first big event as an organization and it was very well-received and, we feel, very successful. We’re looking forward to bringing it back again, maybe every other year,” said Peek-Harris.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a hate crime, 26Health offers counseling services and support.