BY EMELL DERRA ADOLPHUS
Police officer Danielle Woods would sooner flash you a smile than her badge. Both are equally bright, formidably disarming, and essential to her role as the Detroit Police Department’s first-ever LGBT liaison.
“There was no blueprint, no book to go by,” says Woods about her newfound role in the department, appointed in 2013. “It was like: make it happen.”
But “it” takes a village, she explains.
“I have the support of the police department that says we support you and what you’re doing. Let’s be progressive. Let’s be proactive and not reactive on issues involving the LGBT community,” says Woods. “But it takes both sides.”
Woods, who identifies as a lesbian, grew up on Detroit’s east side and took on the role of matriarch as the oldest of four children. “I had to grow up before my time, had to make sure food was on the table, clothes were washed and do homework,” she says. It’s this personal experience that helps Woods relate to the communities she hopes to unite. “So I understand when people have certain struggles and strongholds.”
Woods initially signed up for the police academy on a dare. Now a 15-year veteran of the force, she will be eligible for retirement by her 39th birthday. “But I don’t even think in three and a half years my work will be done,” she says. Improving relations between the LGBT community and the Detroit police force is a matter of rebuilding trust.
“The community has built a barrier and because law enforcement didn’t know how to communicate, didn’t know proper was to engage, they didn’t. And a lot of times when you don’t engage, sometimes saying nothing says a lot,” says Woods. “There have been times when I have been frustrated because I want so badly to do good by the community but everybody is not going to like the way I operate. Everybody is not going to like what I am doing, and it can be frustrating.”
Still, “The positive parts of the job definitely outweighs the negative,” she adds.
Violence against trans women of color and intimate partner violence are two of the foremost issues impacting the LGBT community today, explains Woods. One of the most important roles she plays in combating these issues is visibility–as an advocate and an educator.
Officer Danielle Woods with members of LGBT Detroit during the Motor City Pride parade in Detroit on June 11. Photo courtesy of LGBT Detroit
In addition to LGBT providing sensitivity training for her peers in the police department, Woods also works with an LGBT advisory board to help set priorities in her work and assess the needs of the community. Currently in the works are plans to create LGBT action teams and partnering with local business to create safe spaces.
“It’s getting people involved. When people are involved, you have a different view and outlook on everything,” she says. “When you are sitting at home and all you are worried about is you, that’s easy. But when you can take yourself out of the equation and worry about somebody else first, that speaks volumes.”
When she’s not wearing her uniform, Woods is a wife to her partner of 10 years, Pat, who is retired from the department’s homicide division. “So you can imagine the pillow talk, right?” she says. Taking her role beyond the city of Detroit, Woods also assists other state police divisions with LGBT sensitivity training. It’s all about building a collective understanding of the LGBT community, she says, and that starts with respect.
“I will tell you in a heartbeat you don’t have to agree. But what we are going to do is respect, and I am going to educate you. It’s about equality and the person. We are all people. Period,” says Woods. “So I really try to drill that into my trainings. And really try and breakdown for them what it means to be LGBT, give them a different way of looking at what they think they know.”
Learn more about community-police relations by calling Officer Woods, Detroit Police Department, 1301 Third St. at 313-596-1023 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danielle’s Tools of Engagement
Fair Michigan Justice Project
Trans Sistas of Color Project