Officer Dani Woods graduated from the Detroit Police Academy to join the Detroit Police Department in 2001. She has gone on to become the department’s foremost advocate for LGBT issues. She’s a pillar of the community on many fronts, from walking the Motor City Pride in uniform and waving the LGBT flag at the June parade to training her fellow officers on proper responses to LGBT cases that spark neighborhood dialogues about equality. We caught up with Woods, who some might call the “pride” of DPD.
Hour Detroit: How did you become the Detroit Police Department’s LGBT liaison?
Officer Dani Woods: [Former] Chief [Ralph] Godbee asked me to represent this position. I came to him when it was still kind of in a taboo state to talk about LGBT openly. It wasn’t to the magnitude of disrespect or disservice, it was still just kind of fresh. So it didn’t really resonate with a lot of people that I was talking to. Then a few years later, he attended training in Atlanta, and he gave me a call and said, “Hey they have this officer for the LGBT community, I was thinking maybe we could do something like that.’’ I joined on and there was a meeting of the minds amongst the law department, the police department, members of the LGBT community, activists — people who just genuinely want to bring everyone together. It started with drafting a directive to hold officers accountable for mistreatment of the LGBT community, because that was one of the complaints. [Oftentimes] people of the community don’t come forward or don’t report because they don’t feel as if they’re going to get the proper service from law enforcement, which stems from a long line of mistrust, it didn’t just happen yesterday. We sat at that table for almost a year, and finally, the language was right. Everybody at the table approved, then it went through its different stages with our planning and accreditation unit and the Board of Police Commissioners. Then … we had some changes in administration and my position was kind of placed I wouldn’t say on the back burner, but it wasn’t given the attention it deserved. Once James Craig became the chief of police for Detroit, that was one of his first things. He said, “I had a liaison in Cincinnati, why don’t you guys have one?” He brought me in and allowed me to hit the ground running.
What does your role entail?
I’m very hands on with anything LGBT-related. Whether it’s domestic violence or a homicide a good moment or if it’s a complaint. I’m in the mix to make sure the proper steps are being taken. For instance, it may be viewed as small, but something like the proper pronouns being used when addressing members of the LGBT community. Even with officers that may be LGBT, I’m there for their services as well.
What makes DPD different from departments across the country when it comes to LGBT issues?
I think we’re trailblazers. We just had our first black trans woman. She’s in the police academy right now, doing well and living her dream. I’m the first LGBT liaison for the department. Just building these relationships and the consistency with community relations, that in and of itself says so much about how we as a department care about our citizens. As things change, as the world changes, you either change with it or you get left behind. As a police department, it only makes sense that we definitely make the necessary changes, keeping our citizens first, ensuring the safety of both our officers and the community. That’s our deal.
What was behind the decision for you to walk in the Motor City Pride Parade?
Chief Craig, again, with the locations he’s worked at before. He said: “How better to tell the community that you have the support of the police department than to have an officer march in uniform in the parade?” I wear both hats. I am an out lesbian and I am a police officer.
What other goals do you have?
We’re doing the LGBT action team. That’s getting the LGBT community involved in anything and everything. I understand that not everybody is pro-police and that’s fine. But if I can help to change someone’s mind about the police and their interactions, and change the conversation and create dialogue to where we can at least meet halfway, I feel like I’m doing my job. I would like to start going into the schools and get to know our LGBT youth. It’s always about this group or that group, but so often we forget about the LGBT youth. So for right now, getting everybody involved.
We’re expanding our advisory board: we’re going to be doing quarterly conversations. Let’s talk about the uneasy moments and the uncomfortable things without all the politics and structure. Let’s get real about it and really develop and devise plans and solutions. We can talk about anything until you’re blue in the face, but if you have no solution, what’s the point?