The fee that Josephine Serrano Collier paid in 1946 for the application to become a policewoman in the Los Angeles Police Department was just $1, but it cost her much more than that. Not only was her family against it, her fiance broke off their engagement. And she was bucking a feeling of mistrust in the Latino community toward the police.
But Collier, who had lost her Rosie-the-Riveter job at Lockheed at the end of World War II, needed work and felt she could be a liaison between the community and the LAPD. Of the 200 women who tested to join the force, 21 were accepted and only nine of them made it through training to become full-fledged officers, including Collier.
"The women had no graduation ceremony, received no diploma, nor were they given a gun," wrote Gail Ryan, historian for the Women Police Officers Assn. of California.
Still, Collier had reached her goal, and in doing so became Los Angeles' first Latina policewoman.
Collier, 91, died Feb. 25 at home in Tucson of natural causes, said her daughter, Suzanne.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement last week: "Our department thanks Josephine for her sacrifices and for breaking the lines that divided women from many assignments in the early history of the LAPD. Those sacrifices and her commitment opened the door for many women and Latinas in the department, setting the stage for future generations."
She was born Josephine Serrano on March 14, 1922, in Jerome, Ariz., according to a history of her early life and service that Ryan prepared for the WPOA. After her brother lost his leg in a mining accident, the family moved to Mexico, but because of unrest there they came back to the U.S. and settled in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles.
It was considered a tough neighborhood, and relations with the police were rocky. "More than once Josephine saw lumps and bumps on kids who had a run-in with the local beat officer," Ryan wrote. After graduating from the police academy, Collier was assigned to a jail in Lincoln Heights where she and other policewomen wore nurses' uniforms. Two years later, they went through additional training and were issued guns.
Collier was eventually given a beat to walk in the Pershing Square area downtown, which she and other policewomen did undercover. "They wore a skirt and a hat and gloves," Ryan said last week, "and walked a beat in high heels."
In 1948 she married a fellow officer, Jack Collier, and she stayed with the force until 1960 when she retired because of a back problem. She later worked as a counselor with the Job Corps.
Her husband died in 1987. In addition to Suzanne, Collier is survived by sons John and David; a sister; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.