Entering into an emotional debate between police officials and homosexual activists in Silver Lake, Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo is seeking $25,000 from the municipal budget to start a telephone hot line for the reporting of violence against gays and AIDS victims.
In a motion introduced Tuesday, Woo also called on the city attorney's office to establish a special task force to investigate incidents of so-called "gay-bashing."
Police officials say there is no evidence of an increase in anti-homosexual violence recently. However, some gays in the Silver Lake area, which is represented by Woo, claim that many incidents go unreported because homosexuals are disgusted by what they say is anti-gay prejudice by police.
Fear of gay-bashing was raised by two incidents--the Feb. 28 robbery and killing of a local man, 26-year-old Mario Martinez, just after he left a gay bar in Silver Lake, and by an assault by a group of teen-agers on workers at a Sunset Boulevard food bank for AIDS victims three weeks ago.
No arrest has been made in the slaying, but one teen-age boy was arrested for the beatings outside the food bank.
The proposed telephone hot line would be operated by a civilian community group to be chosen by bid, according to Woo. Modeled after a San Francisco program, the service would function as "a neutral middleman," giving information to police if homosexuals were uncomfortable or unwilling to talk to police directly, Woo said.
The hot line would also keep statistics on "gay-bashing." Crime victims are not categorized now by sexual preference on police reports.
Meanwhile, officials of the Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center in Hollywood held a news conference Wednesday to urge victims of gay-bashing to call them so that the agency can track incidents of violence against homosexuals. Eric Rofes, the center's executive director, said he wants to prove to law enforcement that there is an increasing pattern of violence against gays in Los Angeles.
In recent weeks, two community meetings in Silver Lake turned into shouting sessions in which homosexual activists accused the Police Department of being "homophobic."
The issue of the attitude of police toward homosexuals overshadowed the intended topic of discussion--street crime in Sunset Junction, the area near the intersection of Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards, which has five gay bars.
For example, Marshall Phillips, vice president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, a homosexual group, attended Woo's press conference last week in City Hall on the hot-line proposal and pronounced the idea "a step in the right direction." But Phillips quickly added that the hot line is "a Band-Aid" and that the main issue is whether the Police Department will begin to recruit homosexuals.
Recruitment of Gays Backed
Woo, whose 13th District has heavy concentrations of gays in Hollywood and Silver Lake, has been steering a careful line between his gay constituents and the Police Department. He has not said that the department is anti-homosexual, but he agreed with gay activists that the department should make more of an effort to hire openly homosexual officers.
Gay activists claim that there are probably several hundred homosexuals on the 7,000-member police force but that they conceal their sexual preference because they fear intolerance by their superiors.
Police Cmdr. William Booth denied charges that police officials are anti-homosexual. "Let's make this very clear. There is no homophobia in the department and no homophobia in individuals that I am aware of," he said in an interview Tuesday.
Booth said he thinks there are homosexuals on the force but that he does not know if there are any openly gay officers.
"It's irrelevant," he added. "Sexual preference is not a criterion. We don't delve into that. It's an individual type of thing."
As for Woo's hot-line proposal, Booth said the department would prefer to have crime victims notify police directly for a quicker response. But he said that the department would have no problem in dealing with a middleman if a victim is reluctant to talk to police.
However, he cautioned that victims eventually would have to discuss the crime with police if they expected a successful prosecution of the criminal.
Charles Goldenberg, a deputy city attorney who attended Woo's press conference, said his office wanted to review the proposal for a "gay-bashing" task force before commenting.
Goldenberg said that he has not heard of homosexuality being an issue in many crimes. But he added that the typical misdemeanor battery report, for example, is brief and does not usually mention motivation.
Woo's motion is to be reviewed by the Finance and Revenue Committee and is expected to come to the full council for a vote within a month, according to Woo's press secretary, Bill Chandler.
Asked about its likelihood of approval at a time when the council is facing a season of possible budget cutting, Chandler said: "We have to wait and see."