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Oakland Co. prosecutor, Equality Michigan to partner to serve LGBTQ crime victims

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Pontiac The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office and Equality Michigan, a nonprofit that conducts anti-violence advocacy for the LGBTQ community in the state, have entered an agreement to partner on an initiative to beef up support and services for crime victims, the prosecutor's office announced Thursday.

Discussions on the partnership began late last year, said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan. The agreement itself was signed weeks ago, she said.

Jessica Cooper, in October 2016

Equality Michigan is based in Detroit but serves victims all over Michigan, Knott said. Several of its board members live in Oakland County, and suggested the organization should reach out to county prosecutor Jessica Cooper.

"Prosecuting attorney Cooper as well as Equality Michigan recognize that there's been an uptick of violence and crime against members of the LGBT community," Knott told The News on Thursday, after Cooper's office announced the partnership."This is a way in which we can collaborate and streamline services for victims of crime and violence who identify as LGBTQ and help them heal and get the remedy they need and deserve."

Cooper's office will link LGBTQ crime victims with case managers from Equality Michigan, Knott said.

Those services could include accompanying crime victims to court, helping them prepare victim impact statements, acting as a liaison between the victim and law enforcement, so as to "mitigate some of the suffering that goes along with being part of the court process," Knott said.

Equality Michigan takes calls 24/7 from LGBTQ people who "experience acts of violence, discrimination, harassment and bullying," Knott said. 

"We stand ready," she said. "Our phone lines are flooded each and every day."

Last year, Equality Michigan reached more than 500 people.

In 2018, the most recent numbers available, some 431 hate crime incidents were reported to law enforcement, according to FBI statistics. In 70 incidents, or 16%, the victims were targeted for their sexual orientation.

The partnership, which will cover Michigan's second-largest county, is similar to a partnership entered in 2016 between the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Fair Michigan Justice Project.

2016:Group to handle Detroit crimes against LGBT community

The Fair Michigan Justice Project provides an investigator and a special prosecutor to solve and prosecute serious crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The project was created after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy asked now-Attorney General Dana Nessel, then president of Fair Michigan, for suggestions on how to better serve the LGBT population when they become victims.

Nessel was elected in November 2018. Her office declined comment. 

Alanna Maguire, president of Fair Michigan, applauded the partnership in a statement, and said it hopes Oakland County assigns a dedicated assistant prosecutor to receive training and engage with the community. 

"We've found that the partnering of victim services with attorneys who perform vertical prosecution of these crimes to be the surest formula for successful investigation and prosecutions of these often challenging cases.”

Kym Worthy, Wayne County Prosecutor, said in a statement that "there are LBGTQ victims around the state and around the country.  I am always pleased when other prosecutor’s offices want to focus on these very serious and neglected crimes."

Paul Walton, assistant Oakland County prosecutor, said the office does not break out hate crimes as a separate statistic, and that there is no specialized unit that will work the cases. Staff members will receive training on the issues faced by the the LGBTQ community.

"We address each crime individually," he said.

Walton said the office hopes the partnership with Equality Michigan will help it reach victims who can be reluctant to trust law enforcement.

"Delayed disclosure (of crime) is always an issue," Walton said. "This will help people feel comfortable about coming forward. This could help us address problems we're not anticipating." 

jdickson@detroitnews.com

@downi75 on Twitter