Starbucks is adding “2,000 extra pairs of eyes” to the Seattle Police Department’s Safe Place program, becoming the largest corporation to sign onto a plan to help lesbian, gay and transgender victims of hate crimes.
Not one single business has turned away Seattle police Officer Jim Ritter when he’s asked them to join a program aimed at offering help and a safe haven to lesbian, gay and transgender victims of hate crimes.
Starbucks announced Wednesday that it, too, is partnering with the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Safe Place program, even though the coffee giant has been working since June to implement the program and train 2,000 employees across 97 locations within the city limits.
Starbucks decided to announce its involvementsince the final employee-training sessions will be wrapping up early next week, said Heather Jennings, Starbucks’ regional director for the Seattle metro area.
She said decals with the program’s emblem — a police badge colored to look like a rainbow flag — were affixed to the windows at the Third Avenue and Pike Street store when she made a visit earlier in the day Wednesday.
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“Starbucks has more locations than any other business in Seattle, and its name brand is recognized all over the world,” said Ritter, a 33-year department veteran who was appointed liaison officer to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LBGTQ) community in March.
The message SPD is spreading to businesses through Ritter is a simple one: “It’s OK to call 911. We want you to become involved, we want you to help us help the community,” he said.
Ritter, who is openly gay, led the department in launching the Safe Place program in May. He’s spoken to 650 business owners across the city, and expects the number of participating businesses to hit 1,000 by the end of the year.
“I haven’t been turned down by a single business. It is heartening and reinforces that people in Seattle get it and don’t support hate of any kind,” he said.
Ritter is confident Starbucks’ involvement will encourage other large corporations to get on board. He’s also convinced that adding “2,000 extra pairs of eyes” to the Safe Place program will help police respond to reports of hate crimes and put “bullies” on notice that they can’t get away with victimizing people because of their race, gender, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.
Ritter said the program is encouraging more victims of malicious harassment — the state’s hate-crime statute — to report incidents to police, and increasing victims’ confidence that police and the rest of the criminal-justice system will take the crimes seriously.
“We don’t have roving bands of people assaulting LBGTQ people as we did in the ’80s,” Ritter said. But “the crimes are predatory, they’re picking somebody out of the herd.”
“They’re cowards for the most part … They’re opportunistic, they do their damage and leave,” Ritter said. “They like operating in the shadows and Safe Place eliminates a lot of those shadows.”
So far this year, King County prosecutors have filed malicious-harassment charges in 17 cases, though one case has since been transferred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for federal prosecution, said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
Donohoe didn’t have a breakdown of attacks based on perceptions of a victim’s sexual orientation, but said several cases were filed in connection with alleged crimes committed during the summer’s annual gay-pride celebrations.
In 2013, prosecutors filed charges in nine cases, a number that doubled to 18 last year, Donohoe said. He expects by year’s end, “we’ll probably exceed last year’s number.”
For Jennings, the Safe Place program dovetails with Starbucks’ corporate values and existing partnerships with other community organizations. For instance, a partnership with the YWCA is aimed at empowering girls, and another with YouthCare helps train homeless youth to become baristas.
“We’re already a part of our customers’ lives and … this is another way to be part of the community,” Jennings said. “Anyone who needs a place to go to feel safe, to call the police, we want to be there for them.”