Despite the establishment of a police department task force designed to address crimes against gay and lesbian victims, reported D.C. hate crimes have spiked in the last year, prompting advocates to decry police response.
D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that there is some debate about whether the marked increase is the result of an actual increase in these crimes, or whether such crimes are simply being better reported and recorded. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier purports the latter. She recently even went so far as to hire an independent contractor to review the department's procedures and responses to anti-gay crimes.
That report should be back by early next year.
Still, as of the end of October, there were 51 hate crimes reported against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual District residents. That is just two short of the overall record high of 53 in all of last year. There were 35 in 2010.
And as The New York Times noted in a recent story on the matter, a series of high-profile incidents has dragged the issue back into the spotlight.
Last year, there were a number of street killings, and one incident in which a police officer who was off-duty shot a transgendered individual he had solicited for sex after the individual refused the officer's demands. That officer was convicted last month of assault and solicitation of a prostitute, though he was acquitted on charges of assault with intent to kill. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Although no one has been killed in similar incidents so far this year, there were back-to-back attacks in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, and then in July, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in what is suspected to be a hate crime. Last month, a 23-year-old gay man was severely beaten on a street in Columbia Heights.
The responding officer in that case did not initially record the incident as a hate crime. The chief later responded that was because the officer hadn't at first been told that anti-gay slurs had been shouted moments prior to the attack.
Representatives from the Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence organization commented before the D.C. Council in a July meeting that the city has the highest rate of anti-LGBT violence in the country - and the problem is only getting worse.
When Chief Lanier accepted her position five years ago, she subsequently received a $100,000 grant for the lesbian and gay unit. Part of the changes she has made since then include distributing some 100 officers trained in LGBT crime response throughout the district, rather than having them primarily focused in the Dupont Circle area.
Some say this approach has failed to be effective.
As in many other areas of the country, D.C. imposes harsher penalties when the motivation for a crime is to strike out against an LGBT individual. D.C. code 22-3701 covers bias-related crimes, imposing a sentencing enhancement of 1.5 times the maximum fine and 1.5 times the maximum prison term if a person is found guilty of a hate crime.