People dance to "YMCA" on the Chicago Police Department's float. Credit: Kathleen Hinkel

The Chicago Police Department’s citywide liaison to the queer community resigned his position out of frustration with leadership last month, and the office is in crisis, two sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell the Reader. Both sources expressed concerns that the liaison office has become little more than a public relations ploy.

The sources say the LGBTQ+ liaisons were initially billed as a go-between for CPD and the queer community, but have seen little action since a public announcement. The team of six officers will soon be reduced to just one. 

“I feel like in the beginning, at least, there were a lot of promises, resources—a lot of promises of, you know, departmental support. And at least in the beginning, it was there,” one of the sources says. Over time, however, the department’s priorities shifted.

“It just felt more and more like the department took control of the [liaison] role and made it into what they wanted to,” they say. “It was clear that it was just almost a show.”

One source says the liaisons have primarily been used as backup for other units, and when queer people are victims of violent crimes. 

“It feels as if the liaisons were more like holiday decorations, dusted off and used for a specific purpose when things had already reached a crisis level, as opposed to really engaging with the community,” they say. 

In a statement to the Reader, a CPD spokesperson says building trust with communities and with LGBTQ+ residents is of the utmost importance to the department.

“While we work to strengthen public safety across the city, CPD will continue to have a team in place dedicated to collaborating with and supporting our LGBTQ+ community,” the statement says.  “Our commitment to Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community, and all marginalized communities citywide, will not waver.” 

Sources say Bernard Escamilla, CPD’s citywide liaison to the queer community, left the post last month. Credit: Courtesy of CPD

Bernard Escamilla served as CPD’s citywide LGBTQ+ liaison until he stepped away from the post last month, but he remains with the department. In addition to Escamilla’s departure, the office also removed one community-level liaison as part of a unit reduction, according to the sources who spoke to the Reader.

When it came time to replace liaisons, the department pushed candidates who were inexperienced, not vetted by the community, or had been previously rejected for the positions.

The department announced the liaisons with much fanfare last year after the team was expanded from a single liaison to six officers serving various community areas in Chicago. 

But people familiar with the team say the office’s potential was stymied by intransigence and bureaucracy from above. 

For example, the sources say a liaison position serving the south side was never staffed after applicants didn’t meet criteria set by the department, namely that it be a Black or Brown person. While that is clearly an important goal, particularly for communities brutalized by police, the sources say officers meeting the department’s criteria aren’t in its applicant pool. As for a liaison to the trans community, the sources say many approached by the department outright turned the position down. 

One source was quick to note that the criticisms are directed at superintendent David Brown, who they say has shown a lack of support for the office. They say that former superintendent Eddie Johnson, who preceded Brown, was far more supportive and willing to give liaisons room to work with the queer community. 

The office is enshrined in the 2017 federal consent decree between CPD and the Department of Justice. The agreement dates back to the murder of Laquan McDonald by former police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was released from prison Thursday after serving just half of an 81-month sentence for the crime. 

The consent decree and follow-up reports repeatedly criticized the department for its lack of liaisons to the queer community. Other large police departments, like the New York Police Department and Los Angeles Police Department, boast their own liaison offices as well.  

But the liaisons have faced skepticism from the queer community, particularly Black and Brown queer people who have had problematic interactions with police in the past. 

Now, that skepticism for some has turned to anger. 

“The department lost credibility with me,” one source says. “And I can only imagine just the damage it’s going to do community-wise going forward.”

Queer history through the eyes of the Reader

“Y oung Hyde Park male seeks other young males to get it on with.” A phone number followed, along with the young man’s availability: days, as well as Friday and Saturday.  The Chicago Reader’s first explicitly gay content came not in a blistering exposé, music feature, or show review, but in the classifieds, the backpages…

Adam M. Rhodes

Adam M. Rhodes is a queer, nonbinary, first-generation Cuban American journalist. Rhodes is currently a social justice reporter at the Chicago Reader, where their work centers primarily on queer people and people of color. Their recent work has examined HIV treatment access in Puerto Rico, racism in Chicago’s principal queer neighborhood, and, most recently, HIV criminalization in Illinois. Alongside the Reader, Rhodes has been published in outlets including BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post. You can follow them on Twitter at @byadamrhodes.