More than 200 businesses now part of Orlando's Safe Place initiative

By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017, 4:59 PM EDT

Three months after Orlando Police Department kicked off its Safe Place initiative, more than 200 businesses and organizations have joined in.

  • More than 200 businesses now part of OPD Safe Place initiative
  • Program designed after something started by Seattle Police 
  • It was launched on 6-month anniversary of Pulse nightclub attack

"The business makes a promise that if there's a victim of crime, it's a safe place for them to go," said Lt. James Young, of the Orlando Police Department. "To keep the community safe, we know we can't do that alone."

Young, Orlando Police's LGBTQ liaison, said the department has not seen an uptick in reported crimes. Instead, he feels the stickers have served as deterrents for would-be criminals and provided a sense of security for the community.

"The business community has really stepped up in Orlando, and the public-private partnerships to keep everyone safe is our main goal," he said.

The initiative asks a business to sign up online and display a colorful sticker on its door, denoting their establishment is a safe haven for LGBTQ members who are victims of crime. It was launched on the sixth-month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub attack.

"It's keeping our eyes even more wide open and having to deal with any crisis," said Pom Moongauklang, a business owner. "Hit the panic button, call 911. Everybody's trained to keep more of a watchful eye in our neighborhood."

Moongauklang owns Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria, with locations in Orlando and St. Petersburg paying homage to high tea. Meanwhile, her City Beautiful door reflects respect for the LGBT community.

"I think, as an owner of an establishment, it's not only our responsibility to look after our employees, but to look after our clientele," she said. "We've always been a tight-knit community, but now I'm seeing other corporations helping out a lot more that would never."

Kirt Earhart, who owns Maxine's on Shine, a restaurant, said people have the right to feel comfortable.

"Part of the Safe Place initiative, I think, is people being fit with where they are and being themselves," Earhart said. "A big part of the crowd that we have here is very diverse. We put our heart out there all the time and want people to know there's always a safe place to come, a place to be comfortable and be yourself."

Police said they used about $800 of seized money from criminal operations and bought hundreds of decals. The stickers are free for businesses.

The initiative is modeled after one launched by the Seattle Police Department in May 2015.

Officer Jim Ritter, the LGBTQ liaison officer with the Seattle Police Department, said he couldn't believe how the idea quickly gained traction. The agency has had more than 4,000 businesses sign up. He said law enforcement agencies from around the world are now reaching out to him for guidance.

"Success is shown by fact that LGBTQ community leaders are communicating with police in way like never before," Ritter said during a phone interview Monday, adding that Seattle initially saw an uptick of reported crimes. 

Ritter said it was due to the fact that community members felt more comfortable reporting and that long-standing statistics were misleading.

"Hate crimes reporting is inconsistent around the country," he said. "There's a lot of education that needs to be done, informing the public and police departments what hate crimes are. It's talking about a topic that a lot of people don't talk about for a lot of different reasons. It has exploded to a degree we couldn't imagine."