Episode 25: Sergeant Martindale and Police Officer Ayala, NYPD LGBTQ Outreach Unit
Sergeant Michelle Martindale and Police Officer Aaron Ayala speak about the New York City Police Department's LGBTQ Outreach Unit and how they work to foster community throughout New York City's five boroughs.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:38] Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter. A podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your co-host, Karen Ortman, Assistant Vice President of Field Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional.
Sabah Fatima [00:01:00] And I am Sabah Fatima, a pre-med graduate student here at NYU’s College of Global Public Health. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999.
Karen Ortman [00:01:16] Today we introduce Sergeant Michelle Martindale and Police Officer Aaron Ayala, members of the NYPD LGBTQ Outreach Unit. Sergeant Martindale and Officer Ayala, thank you so much for joining us today on you matter.
Sergeant Martindale [00:01:32] Thank you for having us.
Officer Ayala [00:01:33] Thank you for having us.
Karen Ortman [00:01:35] So, Sergeant Martindale, we'll start with you. How many members comprise the LGBTQ outreach unit for the NYPD?
Sergeant Martindale [00:01:44] Currently, there are just myself and Aaron. So, we normally have three people, but right now we just have ourselves.
Karen Ortman [00:01:51] Okay. And so when did each of you begin your careers in law enforcement?
Sergeant [00:01:58] I joined back in April 1997. I started my career in Spanish Harlem in the 23rd Precinct. I was there for numerous years doing basic patrol and other functions. And then in 2005, I was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Karen Ortman [00:02:12] Congrats.
Sergeant Martindale [00:02:15] Well, thank you. And then I was moved to the 10th Precinct, which is in Chelsea. And I was there just for a brief period. And then I was asked to come to the Community Affairs Bureau in July 2006.
Karen Ortman [00:02:30] So what made you decide to pursue a career in law enforcement?
Sergeant Martindale [00:02:35] I joined the department just because it was challenging and exciting and I wanted to do something positive for the community.
Karen Ortman [00:02:39] Good answer.
Sabah Fatima [00:02:40] Good enough reason.
Karen Ortman [00:02:42] And Officer Ayala. So when did you begin your career in law enforcement? Tell us why you chose the career.
Officer Ayala [00:02:50] I began my career in 2008, when I went through the academy, and I've only worked in one other place besides here. And that's the 32nd Precinct in central Harlem. Loved every minute of it there. I did get to have the experience of working in an in-precinct unit called the Domestic Violence Unit, which involves keeping track of and following up on domestic violence cases within the precinct. And that was that was very fulfilling. And then I was approached by Sergeant Martindale to join the LGBTQ outreach unit and.
Karen Ortman [00:03:23] So if you are, you were recruited.
Sergeant Martindale [00:03:26] He was in a way.
Karen Ortman [00:03:30] So what's the criteria? How does each, well it’s the two of you. You already said that. So how does one become assigned to this unit, particularly other officers who might be interested down the road?
Sergeant Martindale [00:03:46] Well, the unit has been in existence since 2003 the LGBT outreach unit. I was approached in 2010 to head it up because we had a sergeant and a detective that was in it, but they were going other places and retirement. So I joined when I took it over, it was 2010 and I worked with another detective until he retired. And then I was able to pick up Officer Ayala and I had another officer join. Officer, Detective, I'm sorry, she's now Detective Laura Caldwell.
Karen Ortman [00:04:15] Okay. So tell us how your unit addresses the LGBTQ needs of the community.
Officer Ayala [00:04:24] So. We try, we have a many-pronged approach to making sure we have open conversation with our community. So we both identify as members of the community ourselves, you know, in our personal lives, we bring that to us. We bring that with us to the job that we get to do. And we try to make connections at all the community centers. I don't know if you're aware, but there is an LGBTQ community center in all, in every borough of the city. So we try to make connections with them. They might have ongoing workshops. We try, you know, join in on that, maybe put ourselves on their radar to bring us in.
Karen Ortman [00:04:55] So is this a community group, these centers that you're referring to that are in each precinct?
Officer Ayala [00:05:00] They are run by members of the LGBTQ community from that borough, from that community. Yeah. At the same time, there's also another great organization that we that we work with in order to outreach to our community. And that is the Sage Center, which I'm going to get this wrong, is senior advocacy for gay and lesbian elders.
Sergeant Martindale [00:05:20] It is. That is correct.
Officer Ayala [00:05:25] I still feel like they come to look that up. They are active in all five boroughs as well.
Karen Ortman [00:05:38] Well, thank you for sharing that, because I don't think up until right now I've heard of that organization. Yes. You know.
Officer Ayala [00:05:44] They are great. They offer all kinds of services to our LGBTQ seniors. And we like to take an approach with them about, you know, safety workshops, things like that. They might be in a different situation where they might not have all the family acceptance throughout their lives. They might not have extended families. They may not have children, which a lot of times you see that, you know, the elder community, you have your children, grandchildren take care of you. They don't always have that. They have their chosen family and their community. So we focus a lot on safety and what resources the department can bring to them. When we when we speak with them at the same time, we are also very active in helping to outreach to victims of possible bias incidents. So we don't investigate the crime itself. But as you might know from being in law enforcement, that when someone is victimized or they're the victim of a crime, the trauma doesn't end if and when that person is arrested. So we want to make sure that they're getting counseling services, legal services, things like that. Anyway that we can that we can connect them to the right place, whether we can help or not.
Karen Ortman [00:06:48] That's a great service that you that your unit provides.
Sergeant Martindale [00:06:52] Yeah. And there were a bunch of public events, like all the pride events this year, especially since it was World Pride and Stonewall 50. Kept us very busy. And we work with all the different city agencies and advocacy groups across the city. So keeps us in everybody's attention of what's going on.
Karen Ortman [00:07:10] And you also have good relationships, I know, with NYU and with our Department of Public Safety.
Sergeant Martindale [00:07:16] Thanks to you and others. Right. Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:07:20] And I know that you're out in Brooklyn at events as well, with the 84. And just to other sort of services that the NYPD provides and other units are very accommodating to higher education, which is very much appreciated on this end.
Sergeant Martindale [00:07:40] We partner with units and precincts and transit housing bureaus. Yeah.
Officer Ayala [00:07:46] Yeah, definitely. It's I mean, it's great to have that connection with NYU and other schools throughout the city because it is kind of a almost transient population they come in for the school year. They leave. They might not know about the resources that are available outside of the school. So it's nice to be able to be invited in.
Karen Ortman [00:08:05] And I think this podcast serves a great purpose by sharing, you know, with the community who you are and that your unit exists in. And just by talking to you and learning about the organization you just referenced for the older population. The information's great. So what challenges do you face in this unit?
Sergeant Martindale [00:08:31] Our main challenge is just getting our information out there to let people know that we're here and that we can help. So partnering with different organizations and agencies and doing this podcast will help us get our information out. That's our biggest challenge.
Sabah Fatima [00:08:48] How do you see your unit addressing the needs of a university such as NYU?
Officer Ayala [00:08:55] And again, the podcast is a big step forward. I mean, I'll say it because I haven't said it yet, but I graduated from NYU in 2006 and there's always been a great you know, LGBTQ presence and energy. I could see us being able to partner in the way that we do with the other community groups throughout the five boroughs. And one of the major things that we do are workshops. So, I would love for us to come in, work closer with the LGBTQ center here and offer those workshops, invite students in and give them the opportunity to speak with us. And when I say workshops, what we do in those is we offer a safe space where students or community members can come in and ask us those questions that either they've just never had the opportunity to ask or they've been too afraid to ask, or they might have had an experience that they were embarrassed to ask. So they have that outlet where they can speak to us and we try to make sure that, you know, we bring our authentic selves and our experience and we give them the best answer that we can and help them and point them in the right direction. So really, that would be helpful to the students just if. If they've never had the opportunity, have never been the victim of a crime and hopefully no one ever is. But they might not ever have that interaction with a police officer and make it a positive one.
Sergeant Martindale [00:10:18] That's really like my personal connection with the NYPD.
Officer Ayala [00:10:20] And every time I just get questions to hear from after workshops, people we provide our emails, work emails, our work, phone numbers. We get we get those e-mails from people. Just “I have a question.” Yeah, we love that.
Karen Ortman [00:10:35] And you know, as someone who came from a law enforcement background and, you know, I was in that career for a very long time. It makes me proud that, you know, you represent law enforcement, both of you represent law enforcement, and you make people aware that this profession is not at an exclusive club. It's, you know, it's open for a lot of people from diverse backgrounds who have an interest or a passion about helping people. And. You know, and it's an option for anybody who wants to pursue this career.
Sergeant Martindale [00:11:15] That’s the best part about our unit, is that we do get that public interaction.
Sabah Fatima [00:11:25] Mm hmm. You really get to be yourself to at the same time.
Officer Ayala [00:11:28] And the experience is always different, you know, with our LGBTQ seniors. You know, times have changed and they may not have thought about seeing openly LGBTQ cops right out there in their lifetime, and so it's something that I think they're very proud of. And then with our youth, they see that as a valid future for themselves if they feel like that's where they want to go with their lives. I think it's very positive right now.
Sabah Fatima [00:11:52] It's interesting to get like an elderly perspective and then you're getting the youth side of it, you know, total different gradient. What is the most important service that you provide that you would like members of the NYU community to know and understand? I know you mentioned the workshop, but do you have any other suggestions?
Officer Ayala [00:12:07] Well, I think one of the biggest things that we do provide is that personal connection and the information that we give out. So, you know, someone might be afraid for whatever their own personal beliefs or history or, you know, through stereotypes, they might be afraid to approach a precinct or approach a police officer. We offer that personal connection. We offer good information that if people want to, you know, ask a question, we can we can point them in the right direction, get them connected to either the right unit within the department, or maybe it's not a department issue for them. So I feel like that's our biggest resource. And bringing it to different communities is probably the most important thing that we can do.
Sergeant Martindale [00:12:40] Right. And if it's not an NYPD issue, it could be civil. It could be something else. We that we work with all different city agencies that we can link these people up with to get the assistance that they're looking for. Right.
Sabah Fatima [00:12:55] An information hub.
Officer Ayala [00:12:58] Yeah, we carry most of that in for the city, 80 LGBTQ resource agencies. It’s a great thing.
Sabah Fatima [00:13:06] Amazing. OK. So if you had all the money at your disposal, how might you enhance your unit and what additional services would you like to provide, being that it's only you two right now.
Sergeant Martindale [00:13:17] Right. Our unit is very supported. I can't think that it's a money issue. It's just more of like getting our word out and spreading the information that we have to offer to everyone in the community. That's our biggest challenge. So, I don't know how that would in how we would improve on that, but…
Officer Ayala [00:13:37] Yeah, we fall under the Community Affairs Bureau and that's run by Chief Nilda Hoffman and she's extremely supportive of the work that we're doing. So honestly, if you gave me all the money in the world, I would try and give it to a community center so they can help our community with it, you know?
Sergeant Martindale [00:13:53] Yeah. We just want our community to get the word out that, you know, there's people here that will help you when you need it.
Sabah Fatima [00:13:59] I love that answer.
Karen Ortman [00:14:01] Are there any other community service oriented units within the NYPD, similar to the LGBTQ outreach unit, that really engages the community that our listeners would want to hear about or should know about?
Officer Ayala [00:14:17] Well, like I said before, we fall under the Community Affairs Bureau. And within that, we have our outreach division, which the commanding officer is deputy inspector Paul Valerga, and that covers us LGBTQ outreach. And there's also burrow outreaches.
Karen Ortman [00:14:30] Now what does that mean?
Officer Ayala [00:14:32] So just like Manhattan, Bronx, you've got Brooklyn, Staten Island. They actually have outreach teams that do something very similar. They're out there with a community kind of taking the beat, reading the pulse of the community, find out what's going on, what the issues are, and then offering different services to them. And at the same time, we also have another great unit called the Immigrant Outreach Unit.
Karen Ortman [00:14:52] Now, what do they do?
Officer Ayala [00:14:55] They do something extremely similar to what we do, but focused on our immigrant communities. So, again, communities that might have maybe a little standoffish towards police because of history from their home country or where they come from. And so letting them know that they can they can approach the NYPD, they can come to us for help, let us know what issues are going on. They do a very, very good job of that.
Sergeant Martindale [00:15:21] Our school safety division, they are the officers in the schools. So the students can go to the school safety officers and if they have any issues and then they know how to get in touch with us as well. So it's all interlinked.
Karen Ortman [00:15:34] Great. So every borough has these outreach units or is it a centralized NYPD outreach umbrella that goes into the various boroughs?
Officer Ayala 00:15:48] So they do fall under us. And they you know, they are, but they are actually located in each borough.
Karen Ortman [00:15:54] So each community service unit is in each borough.
Officer Ayala [00:15:58] Me and Michelle, we are located in Manhattan, but we go to all five boroughs B. Let's say if we were the Staten Island outreach team, they are actually located in Staten Island.
Sergeant Martindale [00:16:08] You know, we also have our youth services division. So they deal with youth issues and throw softball games and basketball games and stuff. So they really get out there.
Officer Ayala [00:16:20] But we do help each other out. Like if we're if for whatever reason, we, you know, Michelle’s on vacation. I need to do something, we support each other. The other outreach team step up and help me work. And if I'm available, you know, we help them works as well. You know, we still are we're still all police officers.
Karen Ortman [00:16:37] And, you know, your net, you're cross trained, I guess, in each area in case you need to go and handle something that's juvenile related, for example.
Officer Ayala [00:16:44] Right. we still are very, very proud that we're still police officers. And Michelle is still a sergeant of police.
Sergeant Martindale [00:16:51] and then, every precinct, do they have community pairs, officers assigned in every precinct. And they also have crime and crime prevention officers as well.
Karen Ortman [00:17:02] A lot of community engagement. I like it.
Sergeant Martindale [00:17:04] There is.
Sabah Fatima [00:17:06] Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners, today?
Officer Ayala [00:17:12] Oh, I think I would just like to tell everybody that they can look us up. We are the LGBTQ outreach unit for the NYPD. You can Google it. Our Web site pops right up and there is an email…I have to think about that. I have to look it up.
Sabah Fatima [00:17:27] We’ll get on the website.
Officer Ayala [00:17:30] it's on the website to look it up, but that e-mail does go to everyone in the unit, meaning me and Michelle. And so if you need to contact us. That is a great way to ask us any kind of question. And we will get back to you.
Karen Ortman [00:17:45] Thanks for mentioning that, because I forgot to do that. So I'm glad that you did. Anything else, Sergeant Martindale?
Sergeant Martindale [00:17:52] No. I think we've covered everything. Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:17:54] Well, thank you.
Sabah Fatima [00:17:56] Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Officer Ayala and Sergeant Martindale and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter.
Karen Ortman [00:18:04] If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999. You can also get in touch with NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit by calling 212-998-2222. And is there a phone number that you want to share with listeners? Or is that the best way to reach you through emails?
Sergeant Martindale [00:18:31] Email is best. Okay. And we will get you there.
Karen Ortman [00:18:33] And that's through the website.
Sergeant Martindale [00:18:35] Yes.
Karen Ortman [00:18:37] Okay.
Sabah Fatima [00:18:39] For more podcasts like these make sure to write, review and subscribe on Apple podcasts, Google Play or Spotify.