The Rochester Police Department has revamped its policies for interacting with the gay community. One reason is, more gay people live in Rochester than most cities its size. But there aren't many local cops who are out. Here's he story of an RPD Officer serving with pride.
Officer Tim Wright is an 18 year RPD veteran. Wright is one of just a handful of openly gay cops in Rochester. When offered the job he was warned by some outside the department to stay in the closet. "Some people approached me and suggested that it might not be safe to come out."
Tim couldn't live a lie. He told RPD he was gay. "Smartest thing I ever did on the job. Smartest thing. The stress would have been tremendous."
Wright wanted a career in the Navy. He met President Reagan serving on the Battleship USS Iowa. But in the Navy Tim would have been arrested for telling the truth. "It wasn't don't ask don't tell, it was before that when it was not only don't ask don't tell it was we're gonna hunt you down and find you."
One of Wright's mentors is RPD Lieutenant Frank Diprimo. "Tim Wright's a great officer. He's fair but he's aggressive too. And when it comes to dealing with bad guys he normally doesn't cut them breaks. He does his thing."
Diprimo says an officer's sexuality doesn't make a difference. "Well you know it's policing. It has nothing to do with your ethnic background or your race or religion or anything like that and certainly sexual preference, who cares?"
"He was probably in the police department 15 years before I knew that" says RPD Chief Jim Sheppard. "It never was an issue for me, he just did his job and that's all I was ever interested in."
Chief Sheppard has made changes. Especially when it comes to how officers interact with Rochester's Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGTB) community. There's more training and new rules. "In collaboration with the Gay Alliance what we did is we looked at a number of policies throughout the country and we revised our policy to allow for gender expression. And what that means is however someone may identify themselves we're going to respect that. And based on their gender identification our conversations with them, our search policy, our transportation policy will all adhere to their personal preference."
Scott Fearing is Program Director at the Gay Alliance. He says per capita, Rochester is the gayest city in the state. The Gay Alliance likes what Sheppard is doing. "They've done some really great education and that's really important."
Scott fearing says local law enforcement should be doing these things because they serve a lot of gay people. "But we find if we look at our census track and the zip code range in our data base, we've got LGBT folks living in every zip code in the area."
Tim and his longtime partner Daniel Mejak are part of that community. They waited years for the law to change in New York and got married this fall. Daniel doesn't worry anymore about how other cops treat Tim. "And everyone who I had ever met that I had been introduced to that worked as his partner held him in such high regard, in such high esteem and said you know, that he's one of the hardest working police officers we have, he's got my back all the time, I trust everything about him."
Nobody really knows for sure how many gay cops there are in Rochester. It's not something they ask about on a job application nor can they because it's illegal. But based on national statistics it's a good bet there are more than the 3 or 4 that are out.
Fearing thinks more local cops will come out in the future. But you know if we look at the other organizations in town, you know the former Kodak, to Xerox to Bausch and Lomb and others really led the country on LGBT workplace issues. And it just makes sense the police department is doing that work as well."
All Chief Jim Sheppard wants is for his officers to be themselves. "I think the Rochester Police Department would embrace you. I know from my perspective and I think for all the officers in the Rochester Police Department is what we're concerned with is when I need you are you going to be there? And that's the sole thing we would judge somebody on."
In 18 years Tim Wright says he has never once been ridiculed by other officers because he's gay. He can't speak for other cops but he knows he's glad he came out. "If I was willing to put my life on the line I wasn't willing to hide from anybody. If you're willing to get shot you should be willing to tell people who you are. All I've ever wanted was to say that I was a policeman who was gay, not a gay policeman. I think that's the most important thing."
Also on our website, Officer Tim Wright talks more about the difficult decision to come out as a cop. RPD Chief Jim Sheppard explains why changes were necessary to better serve the LGBT community. And we have Scott Fearing from the Gay Alliance on the history between the gay community and law enforcement and why there are still problems in some places today.