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State Charges LAPD Is Biased Against Latinos

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In one of its most sweeping actions against a public agency, the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing has accused the Los Angeles Police Department of unlawfully discriminating against Latino officers in promotions and pay increases.

An administrative complaint filed by agency attorneys alleges that Latino officers for a decade have been unfairly held back because of biased and inconsistent promotion procedures and inadequate affirmative action plans.

There is a “great disproportion” between the pool of qualified Latino officers who have applied for promotions, raises and choice assignments and those who have moved up the ranks, the complaint alleges. Much of the complaint centers on the methods the Police Department uses to decide whom to promote.

The investigation was initiated in 1988 after an organization of Latino officers complained of unfair promotion practices.

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Daniel Borzoni, an attorney with the state fair employment agency, said the Police Department case is one of the largest filed by the agency in terms of the number of employees potentially affected. The complaint is a first step toward possible state-mandated reforms within the department.

Under consent decrees in a federal court discrimination lawsuit, the Police Department has been required for 10 years to boost recruitment of minorities and women.

In the new case, Borzoni said, the state agency--which monitors both private and public employers for discrimination and other violations--has been negotiating with the Police Department and the city to resolve the alleged shortcomings in promotion practices. A settlement may result, he said. If not, hearings will be held on the allegations by an administrative law judge and possibly the state Fair Employment Commission, which has wide-ranging authority to order corrective measures.

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates strongly denied that there are any problems with promotional practices of the department.

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“None. Absolutely none,” he told The Times. “I’ve said this time and again. This is a department of excellence and anyone it chooses to promote it does promote. The promotional system is not an easy one. There are no free rides. That’s why this is such great organization.”

Gates declined further comment, as did a department spokesmen, who said the discrimination case involved potential litigation.

Sgt. Emilio Perez, president of the 1,000-member Latin American Law Enforcement Assn., which filed the initial complaint, said Tuesday that he was pleased with the state’s action, but declined to comment further, on the advice of attorneys.

Borzoni said the state agency also is investigating alleged discrimination in promotion of black officers. He would not elaborate.

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About 21% of the 8,400-officer Los Angeles Police Department is Latino. But most Latinos, who have been hired in part because of court-ordered recruitment of more minorities in recent years, are concentrated in the lowest ranks, police records show. Only 10% of the captains are Latino, and for several years the highest-ranking Latino has been a commander, a step below deputy chief.

The state specifically alleges that testing and interview procedures have discriminated against Latinos. The Police Department has not demonstrated that its exams are “properly developed . . . (and) related to the various job duties it purports to test,” the state alleges.

Citing a wide range of department statistics, the state charges that Latinos are being promoted to the ranks of sergeant, detective, lieutenant and captain at rates well below those of their Anglo counterparts. In 1989, for example, 524 Anglos applied for promotion to sergeant, as did 180 Latinos. But while 27% of the Anglos were promoted, only 16% of the Latino officers moved up.

The state also criticized the oral interview tests, which are given to decide who receives step increases within ranks, such as the promotion to the highest-level detective.

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The panels that conduct these oral interviews, the state alleges, are not made up of “neutral individuals,” do not maintain records of their interviews, ask questions that are not standardized and do not tell unsuccessful applicants why their promotions are denied.

“Affirmative action considerations appear to play no part in the selection process,” the state attorneys alleged.

Under the consent decrees in the federal court case, the Police Department agreed to accelerate hiring of minorities until its officer force reflected the ethnic makeup of the region’s labor force. The department says that it has been meeting its entry-level recruitment goals for Latinos, blacks and women in recent years, but not Asians.

Latino activists supporting the state discrimination case on promotion practices said that while there has been some improvement in the advancement of Latinos in recent years, the department has not done nearly enough.

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“What’s happening is you have this massive recruitment effort of Latino officers (but) they are just bunching up at the bottom of the ranks,” said attorney Theresa Bustillos, who has consulted with the Latino officers’ group on the case. “They are becoming frustrated when they look up and see white officers getting ahead.”

Alan Clayton, a spokesman for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the state action is “extremely significant” because, at the current rate of promotion, the Police Department’s policy makers will never reflect the ethnic diversity of the city it polices. Latinos now make up about one-third of the city’s population.

“We want to have Latinos in there making decisions on how to deal with, say, Latino gangs,” said Clayton, who has lobbied the city Police Commission to make changes. “You want a balance there.”

Assistant City Atty. Robert Cramer, who represents the city in the case, said the state administrative action was taken now because the statute of limitations on the Latino officers’ complaint was about to expire. Cramer would not comment on the specifics of the case or the negotiations, saying that it is “impossible to predict” the outcome of the talks.

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Latino officers were reluctant to discuss the case, some saying that they feared retribution by the department and others saying that they felt strides were being made to correct past problems.

“I don’t think the department is at fault,” said one Latino officer familiar with the case. “I think it is a handful of managers who were not sensitive to the issues who created the problems.”

Linda Torn, a state fair employment investigator, said her examination of the case found “everyone--from low-level police officers to ranking ones in all areas--felt they had been discriminated against in some way.”

In response to complaints by Latino officers, the Police Commission set new goals in 1989 for promoting Latinos. The ambitious plan calls for a sixfold increase in the number of Latino captains by 1993, and a threefold increase in lieutenants.

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But Clayton said he has monitored the progress over the last year and has seen little headway.

“They are paper goals only,” he said. “Gates and the top command structure of the department have not had an affirmative action plan that is a living, breathing document that gets acted upon.”

Police commissioners declined to comment Tuesday.

Times staff writers George Ramos and Rich Simon contributed to this report.

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NEXT STEP

Negotiations are expected between Los Angeles police officials, the city attorney and the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing to end alleged discrimination against Latino officers seeking promotions. If no settlement is reached, the matter may go before the state Fair Employment Commission, which can order corrective action. No hearing date has been set.

THE NUMBERS

The chart below shows the percentage of Latino officers in the Los Angeles Police Department’s higher rates, compared to their Anglo and black counterparts. No Latino holds a post above commander.

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Commander Black: 5.5% Latino: 5.5% Anglo: 88.8%

Captain Black: 8.8% Latino: 4.4% Anglo: 86.7%

Lieutenant Black: 5.2% Latino: 9.5% Anglo: 84.4%

Detective Black: 6.9% Latino: 14.4% Anglo: 76.2%

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Sergeant Black: 9.7% Latino: 11.5% Anglo: 77.2% Source: Los Angeles Police Department


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