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Progress in Minority Hiring Eludes Most Police Departments

Times Staff Writer

Eight years ago today, the Los Angeles Police Department agreed to sweeping court settlements that required the department to greatly accelerate the hiring of women and minorities.

LAPD officials say that since the court orders, they have nearly doubled the number of blacks and Latinos on the force and increased fourfold the number of women officers.

Public-interest lawyers who helped draw up the agreements, which settled two lawsuits against the department, said at the time that they hoped the settlements would mark a turning point in minority hiring for the entire Los Angeles area.

But in the South Bay, most police departments remain largely the bastion of white men.

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Fewer Than 10% Women

In all nine of the South Bay cities with police departments--El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Redondo Beach and Torrance--fewer than 10% of the sworn peace officers are women. In six of those departments, fewer than 10% of the officers are nonwhites.

Only the Gardena, Hawthorne and Inglewood police departments are more than 10% minority, although expectations for minority hiring are greater in those cities because minority groups now make up the majority of residents.

The dearth of minorities and women is even more striking in management, where five South Bay police departments--El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, and Redondo Beach--do not have a single woman or minority in supervisory positions--the rank of sergeant or above.

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(Other South Bay communities are served by the Los Angeles Police Department or Sheriff’s Department.)

South Bay police chiefs and recruitment directors said they are doing their best to hire women and minorities, and that their officers are trained to treat the public with sensitivity.

Minorities have had difficulty making inroads in suburban police departments all over the country, said Harold Webb, executive secretary of the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter.

“I appeared before the (federal) Civil Rights Commission a couple months ago, and they wanted to know what the priorities should be leading up to the 21st Century,” Webb said. “I told them that the outlying cities are 25 years behind in the civil rights movement. They have never addressed themselves to affirmative action.”

Hawthorne Police Sgt. Don Jackson, who is black, said that many South Bay police officers know little about minorities because they work with so few of them. “I think ignorance breeds contempt,” Jackson said, “and contempt in law enforcement often leads to misconduct. (Police) are in a purified (racial) environment, and so when they come in contact with minorities, they make fun of the way they talk and behave. That can lead to hostility.”

Jackson formed a group called Law Enforcement Officers for Justice last year, after he charged the Hawthorne department with racism and was placed on a stress disability leave. The Hawthorne department denied his claims, and Jackson remains on leave and receives workers compensation.

The federal agency that receives most discrimination complaints, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, does not reveal which employers have been criticized. A secondary conduit is the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which said it has no active complaints against South Bay police departments.

Police administrators locally said their goal is to hire employees who represent the ethnic diversity of the greater Los Angeles area, not just the South Bay.

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For example, Torrance’s two black officers make up less than 1% of the 234-member force, and the 15 Latinos account for 6.4% of the sworn officers. These numbers are roughly in line with a city population that is also less than 1% black and is 10.7% Latino.

But Lt. Robert Armstrong, head of the Police Department’s personnel division, said he tries to hire officers from “the larger job market, rather than just the city.” Los Angeles County’s population is 11.3% black and 34.9% Latino.

Police administrators in South Bay cities that are mostly white said they have another reason for hiring minorities: Officers regularly interact with blacks, Latinos and others who come to their cities to work, shop or visit the beach.

Critics such as Jackson say the police departments pay lip service to hiring minorities and women but actually look for reasons to turn down nonwhites.

A black police official in one South Bay city, who asked not to be identified, said it is natural, though regrettable, for groups dominated by one race to hire people like themselves.

But police officials deny any effort to exclude minorities, citing several reasons why they have not been able to hire more blacks, Latinos and women.

Smaller departments said they sometimes have trouble competing with the county’s two giants, the Sheriff’s Department and LAPD, which pay better.

Both departments have launched massive hiring campaigns to expand their forces and add nonwhites. The LAPD plans to add 700 officers to its current complement of 7,452, while the Sheriff’s Department wants to add 1,000 deputies to its force of 6,893.

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Pay for deputies begins at $31,944 a year, and LAPD rookies make $31,000. Beginning salaries in South Bay departments start anywhere from $600 to several thousand dollars below that level, although some departments offer more competitive salaries as officers gain seniority.

Torrance’s Armstrong said he believes his department has trouble hiring more black officers because minorities prefer to work for the more diverse Sheriff’s Department and LAPD.

“We have been trying to recruit more black officers,” Armstrong said. “It’s really tough for us. And I can understand how (minorities) feel: ‘I don’t want to go down to a police department in a lily-white community with an all lily-white police department.’

“In some communities with black officers and a black community, it might be a more comfortable place to be, I would think,” said Armstrong, who is white.

Two black officers in the South Bay, who requested anonymity, agreed that other minority officers might feel more comfortable going to departments where there are more co-workers of their own color or ethnicity.

The officers said there has been little effort to make them feel comfortable in their departments, which they did not want named.

Before he was put on leave, Sgt. Jackson said, other Hawthorne officers expected him to accept their racial stereotypes and to “come down harder” on blacks and other minorities.

Treatment Called Fair

The Hawthorne Police Department denied these allegations. Other South Bay departments also said their officers treat minorities equitably.

Among the other minority hiring problems listed by several police departments are pre-employment testing and background checks. “We find it is a problem that (some) minority candidates don’t make it through background checks,” said Cmdr. Anthony Altfeld of the Hermosa Beach Police Department, which is 97% white. “Some of it has to do with the use of drugs, others have to do with indebtedness, bankruptcy and other problems that are valid reasons for exclusion.”

Inglewood Police Chief Ray Johnson, who is black, agreed. “The biggest problem with minority candidates is getting them through the process,” including written tests, Johnson said.

But a public-interest lawyer involved in minority hiring issues, who declined to be named, charged that the written tests used by most departments “are white middle-class vocabulary tests. They are culturally biased. And yet there is no evidence that they are of any value in picking the right people. You are eliminating a lot of damn good people because they are not good on a pen-and-pencil test.”

Police departments defend the tests, saying recruits need minimum reading and writing skills to do their jobs.

Few Citizens Demands

City officials say that demands for increased minority hiring are seldom, if ever, raised by citizens in El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Redondo Beach and Torrance.

That is not the case in Gardena, Hawthorne and Inglewood.

“I hear two things,” said Inglewood City Councilman Daniel Tabor. “One is, ‘We would like to see more black officers,’ and the other is, ‘We would like to see the officers that we do have more often.’ I hear that every time I go to a community meeting.”

One-third of Inglewood’s police are black, Latino or Asian, and nearly 20% of the department’s supervisors are from those groups, making it the most integrated police department in the South Bay. But the city also has the largest minority population in the area, 83.7%, and residents say they would like to see more minority officers.

Gardena Police Chief Richard Propster said he also has heard complaints. “People in the community have mentioned it,” Propster said. “ ‘Why don’t you have more blank--Asians or blacks or whatever--on the Police Department?’ My response is, ‘Send us more applicants.’ ”

The Gardena department is trying to improve on its 4.7% black, 9.5% Latino and 8.2% Asian representation by recruiting in the community. Propster said the department tries to recruit children, beginning at age 14, to join Explorer and cadet programs that teach elementary police skills.

Officials in Gardena, Hawthorne and Inglewood all said they are satisfied that they are progressing as quickly as they can with the hiring of women and minorities. Low rates of retirement and attrition make it difficult to increase the number of minority officers more rapidly, they said.

That is even more true in management ranks, which are usually filled from the rank and file.

There are just four women and 15 minorities among the 201 management employees, ranked sergeant and above, in South Bay police departments. The rest are white men.

Chief Propster in Gardena said his goal is “for any young person to look into a police car and see someone who looks like them, because I think that lets them theorize, ‘Yes, I can.’ ”

RACIAL MAKEUP OF POLICE FORCES

City % White % Black % Latino Palos Verdes Estates 95.6 0 4.4 Hawthorne 85.9 4.7 8.2 Inglewood 67.0 18.6 11.8 El Segundo 98.1 1.9 0 Gardena 77.6 4.7 9.5 Manhattan Beach 94.8 0 3.5 Hermosa Beach 97.0 0 3.0 Redondo Beach 90.0 3.0 6.0 Torrance 91.0 0.9 6.4 LAPD 67.5 1.2 18.3 Sheriff 76.0 9.2 12.9

City % Other Size % Women % Minority of Force Supervisors* Palos Verdes Estates 0 23 8.7 0 Hawthorne 1.2 85 3.5 13.6 Inglewood 2.6 188 5.9 19.6 El Segundo 0 53 9.4 0 Gardena 8.2 85 7.0 1.2 Manhattan Beach 1.7 58 5.2 0 Hermosa Beach 0 34 8.8 0 Redondo Beach 1.0 101 6.0 0 Torrance 1.7 234 2.1 4.3 LAPD 2.0 7,452 10.6 17.5 Sheriff 1.9 6,893 11.5 11.5

* Sergeant or higher Source: Police departments, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

RACIAL MAKEUP OF RESIDENTS

City % White % Black % Latino % Other Total Population Palos Verdes Estates 90.1 1.1 2.9 5.9 14,792 Hawthorne 49.7 12.9 27.8 9.6 62,220 Inglewood 16.3 54.5 25.7 3.5 104,542 El Segundo 86.2 0.4 10.0 3.4 15,654 Gardena 26.3 23.0 22.7 28.0 50,557 Manhattan Beach 90.6 0.4 5.5 3.5 33,788 Hermosa Beach 87.1 1.1 8.0 3.8 18,845 Redondo Beach 79.3 1.2 14.1 5.4 63,454 Torrance 75.3 0.8 10.7 13.2 137,962 L.A. City 42.5 15.3 35.0 7.2 3,414,180 L.A. County 47.0 11.3 34.9 6.8 8,589,924

*1988 projections, based on 1980 U.S. Census data Source: National Planning Data Corp.


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