Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson testified this morning before the Idaho legislature on the Idaho Human Rights Act.
Testimony – The Idaho Human Rights Act Amendment
State Capitol, Wednesday, March 20, 2013 8am
"Good morning, Mr. Chairmen and members of the House and Senate State Affairs Committees. My name is Mike Masterson and I currently serve as Chief of Police in Boise Idaho. I’m here today to offer testimony in support of the Idaho Human Rights Act.
In my 36 years of policing, I have spoken publicly on many topics. I’m proud to say I’ve authored numerous articles featured in prestigious professional law enforcement publications that focus on progressive, effective and best police practices, all of which we use here in Boise.
But the words I’m about to say to you may be the most important I’ve ever had the opportunity to share, because they go directly to the foundation of what I believe maintains a free and just and viable society, what all laws, policies and procedures are based on: That’s safety, trust and – to borrow a phrase – justice for all.
First, let’s talk trust. Think about it: Trust is what establishes and builds each relationship we value. Consciously or not, trust determines almost all the choices you and I will make today and every day.
After I became Chief in Boise in January of 2005, when I had the opportunity, for the first year I would return to Wisconsin – for a haircut. Boise is filled with good barbers, but it took me 12 months to find a barber I trusted. Then, just when I became comfortable with him, he retired. I have since found a woman by the name of May. May is from Persia. We know it today as Iran. She came to Boise in the 80’s because she trusted that our country would protect her from political persecution.
I’m very happy I eventually found a chiropractor in Boise I came to trust. He happens to be gay. I didn’t choose him because of his sexual orientation. I picked him because I trusted he would relieve my back pain.
When you and I make daily choices about relationships we value – from barbers to doctors to spouses – we don’t trust blindly. But we routinely ask that of our citizens regarding their government. And standing here before you, I represent the most visible and accessible form of government: our community police. Police are where trust in government starts. It is especially important to Boise Police as our patch reflects my department, our Capitol, the People’s House and the values and laws we represent.
Trust is the basis for the social compact that we as peace officers have with those we serve. We need citizens’ trust to secure their cooperation, their compliance with our laws, to solve problems and establish policing priorities for our communities. These are not just my words; trust is the founding principle established by Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, whose two-hundred-year-old principles still define effective policing.
The importance of trust – in relationships, in policing and in maintaining a safe and functional society – cannot be overstated. However, that trust can be jeopardized when the citizens we serve lose confidence in our ability to protect them.
I received this email late last year, in November of 2012:
I’m writing because one of my friends was severely beaten two nights ago. I just found out last night – and it sounds like they were leaving the bar very late Tuesday night, his partner and friend were walking further ahead, and a car with 3 young men and a female driver pulled up and began yelling "fag," etc. – then got out of the car and attacked him. By the time his partner and friend ran back they had already kicked him to the ground and had left him lying in the street.
The writer of that email feared the inability of myself and my officers to protect that victim or even to investigate and find those responsible. This vicious attack should never happen to anyone today because of their political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or their sexual orientation or gender identity. Countless times throughout my career I have fielded complaints against my department on perceptions that we just don’t give a darn about personal crimes among the LBGT community when in fact, the crimes had not been report to us. Why?
People aren't reporting crimes because they fear being outed to their employer during the criminal justice process. They don't trust the system to protect them. Amending the IHRA would allow people to trust and feel safe reporting crimes to law enforcement and at the same time know that making such a report wouldn't jeopardize their employment or housing.
Now to safety.Trust and confidence in the police are fundamental to establishing safety and security for those we serve. Citizens must first feel a sense of safety before they can realize the other benefits of our society that make it functional and livable, like economic and cultural vitality.
In 2012, a group of constituents requested a meeting with my elected officials here in the Capitol City of Idaho to discuss “gay bashing.” Whether you’re a target, a perpetrator, or hopefully neither, gay bashing has a direct and widespread impact on the livability of our communities. These citizens perceived that the police didn’t care, couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to stop the crime. And so, apparently, much of that type of crime has gone unreported.
As a student of my profession, I can tell you that unreported crime perpetuates crime. It nurtures a culture where offenders believe that crime is tolerated and accepted. Reports indicate there are those who believe it is okay to commit crimes against the LGBT community because they won’t report it to authorities. As a Police Chief, I can say that it’s not okay. When those we serve are afraid to report crimes to police because they are frightened that they may have to disclose to their employer the reason for their participation in the prosecution of that crime, that erodes the trust in the arms of government that we ask them to and they expect to protect them – their police and elected officials.
Police are your representatives enforcing the laws you pass, but more importantly, we represent the values closely aligned with our communities.
Finally, as a leader in Idaho law enforcement, I must talk about justice. Justice is a word frequently used in the founding documents of our country. As you know, it’s reflected on the Great Seal of the State of Idaho among values we hold especially important: equality, liberty and justice.
Today I used the term “justice” in the context of “fairness.” Justice means lawful, righteous, equitable and moral. Most of us were raised to use the principles of justice and fairness to guide our daily conduct and how we treat each other.
“Liberty and justice for all” is a pledge we all took beginning as children, committing justice as a value engrained in the basic fabric of what makes our country not only great but, in many cases, different from others.
Justice for me professionally must include protecting citizens against being the victim of a crime, including theinjusticeof being denied housing or employment or refused a service accommodation based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity. Yes, police enforce our laws, but our first and fundamental duty is to protect the civil and constitutional rights of the people we serve.
Earlier this year the Boise City Council approved an anti discrimination ordinance. Since the ordinance’s inception the Boise Police Department has yet to receive it’s first complaint and it’s now approaching 90 days. Other communities around the state are now considering the same protection for their members.
My family and I will join your families this year in celebrating the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's creation of the Idaho Territory. President Lincoln committed his life to ensuring equality among Americans. It’s my hope you will join me in taking an important step to provide equality among ALL Idahoans by ensuring trust, safety and justice in our government by amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
I thank you for your time.
If you want to influence the discussion, you can find your Idaho Legislator by going here http://legislature.idaho.gov/who'smylegislator.htm