The Austin Police Department is partnering with local businesses to protect LGBTQ victims of hate crimes and harassment in public.
A new initiative, called Safe Place, launched just before Austin Pride on Aug. 10. It allows local businesses to place a rainbow sticker on their window to mark them as locations where anyone can seek shelter and assistance if they have experienced harassment or a hate crime. The initiative was introduced following the assault of Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry, a gay couple, in January, APD Sgt. Michael Crumrine said. He said the majority of hate crimes occur in a public setting and are underreported for a variety of reasons.
“I was aware of this program that was started in Seattle and how much great success they had with getting this program engaged in other departments throughout the country,” Crumrine said. “Hopefully, we can address the reporting of hate crimes and also create an environment where anybody who shows that they were targeted based upon who they are or how they identified had a safe place to go and report.”
As of Aug. 20, 50 businesses had applied to become part of the program, said Christian Mendoza, LGBTQ liaison and Safe Place coordinator.
The closest Safe Place to campus is currently Halcyon, a coffee bar located on the corner of 4th and Lavaca streets. Assistant general manager Ro Sigler said she was approached by Mendoza in January to become part of the program.
“We just finished up the training for the staff,” Sigler said. “(Officers talked) about what to do during an emergency situation, how to assess a situation, how to appropriately deal with a situation, such as calling 911, and how to make the person in question or the victim feel comfortable and safe.”
Businesses looking to become Safe Places can fill out an online application at apdsafeplace.org. Applicants will be sent the rainbow window stickers and have APD officers come in to conduct training, Crumrine said.
“I did do a social media blast about the initiative, and we got really good reviews,” Sigler said. “We had people say that they were so proud that the place that they hold so dear is part of the community in that way.”
Ric Galvan, history sophomore and UT Texas Rising president, said Texas Rising, a project of the Texas Freedom Network, which focuses on issues such as LGBTQ equality and voting rights, is glad to see law enforcement and local businesses work together for this initiative.
“It’s important to know that the most vulnerable Texans are safe in Austin at businesses, along with just knowing that law enforcement will be there for them to keep them safe,” Galvan said.
Crumrine said anybody who feels they have been targeted, whether on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or race, can use Safe Places.
“To prey on somebody because they’re just being their authentic self … is something that’s not going to be tolerated in Austin, either from the community or the criminal justice system, and certainly not law enforcement,” Crumrine said.