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Uniformed Gay Officers to Staff Recruit Booth

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Turning aside objections from Chief Daryl F. Gates, the Police Commission on Friday ordered the Los Angeles Police Department to staff a recruitment booth at a weekend street festival with two uniformed gay officers.

The officers posted at today’s Sunset Junction Festival in Silver Lake will be working on duty and will be chosen from among openly gay or lesbian members of the department who volunteered for the task, the commission decided in an emergency session at Parker Center.

City Councilman Joel Wachs and leaders of gay and lesbian organizations hailed the commission’s decision as an important victory that sets in motion the development of a more receptive policy toward homosexuals in the Police Department.

“This is a very historic moment in the city of L.A.,” Wachs said after the commission’s unanimous vote. “A year from now this is going to be a non-issue.”

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A resistant Gates said the commission’s ruling is narrow, applies only to this weekend, and does not establish a precedent.

“The big issue is, are we going to do it for everyone?” Gates said. “If we do it here, are we going to allow it every time there’s a good cause, and people are going to feel better about it?”

The order from the five-member citizens board comes amid a swirling debate over reforms at the Police Department in the wake of the scathing Christopher Commission report. Friday’s action by the Police Commission was seen as an effort to exert control over the chief and his handling of the department.

In addition to staffing the weekend’s recruitment campaign with gays, police commissioners ordered their staff to begin writing a policy that will encourage the participation of gays and lesbians--and other minority groups--in Police Department recruitment.

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The issue will be featured at a regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 27.

“There is obviously a segment of the community that feels it is, in some way, disenfranchised when it comes to being able to have the opportunity even to inquire with respect to employment at the Police Department,” Commissioner Anthony de los Reyes said.

“I think there is a much larger problem out there that we should look at.”

The commission was acting in response to a motion approved unanimously by the City Council and backed enthusiastically by Mayor Tom Bradley.

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Commissioners were asked to overrule Gates, who had prohibited off-duty police officers from wearing their uniforms while working at the recruitment booth. Because this weekend’s festival is being held in a largely gay community, his ban was seen by activists as anti-gay.

Gates vigorously opposed the idea of uniformed off-duty recruiters, saying it would violate labor laws, increase the city’s liability and confuse residents seeking help from the police.

To deal with the issue of liability, the commission adopted a compromise put forward by De los Reyes in which homosexual officers who volunteer to work at the recruiting booth will be paid and wear uniforms.

The practice does not vary significantly from recruitment in neighborhoods where ethnic minorities are targeted. Recruitment booths in predominantly black, Latino or Asian areas are often staffed with a supplemental contingent of black, Latino or Asian officers who work on duty and in uniform, department officials said.

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Gates repeatedly drew a distinction. The Police Department has been under court order since 1980 to recruit ethnic minorities and women as a way to compose a police force that reflects the diverse Los Angeles community.

“Sexual orientation has never been a protected class,” Gates said.

Members of the audience in the packed commission chambers urged action on gay recruitment before a lawsuit forces change.

“You don’t do this because you have to,” Wachs said. “You do this because you want to, and you do this because it’s right.”

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Gates accused commissioners and council members of acting out of “political expediency.” While the chief said he was taking some consolation in what he saw as the narrow application of the board’s order, he nevertheless believed that the practice of including gays in recruitment would create a deluge of problems.

“It opens up an awful lot of problems for the city,” Gates said. “The problems in dealing with ethnicity are enormous. To add one more on the issue of . . . sexual orientation opens up far more difficult issues than whether you’re Hispanic or black. Those are pretty easy issues compared to what your sexual orientation is.”

Advocates of gay and lesbian issues said the commission’s actions signaled a new attitude of increased tolerance that the Christopher report is forcing.

Wachs, who appeared before the commission as author of the council’s motion, told his audience that including uniformed gay officers in recruitment would create “an enormous amount of goodwill.”

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“It is a matter of urgency and significance,” Wachs said. “It is the breaking down of the last great barrier to full participation by gay and lesbian people in our city’s affairs.”

Paul Butler, an LAPD reserve officer who is gay, said Friday that he plans to help out at the Sunset Junction booth. He praised the Police Commission’s decision as a boost to the gay community and the department.

“This will force officers who never used the word ‘gay’ in any context but jokes to finally realize they may be working with gay officers,” Butler said. “And, overall, the department will improve because of it.”

Butler said the LAPD personnel office, after the Police Commission’s action, notified members of Pride Behind the Badge that volunteers were being sought for the Silver Lake festival. Pride Behind the Badge is a support group of gay law enforcement officers, claiming 150 members, that remained secret until June.

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It was in June, at the annual Gay Pride Festival in West Hollywood, that gay police officers--in uniform--for the first time staffed a recruitment booth. Gates at the time said he permitted it only because a subordinate gave approval without his knowledge.

Butler will be joined at the Sunset Junction booth by Officers Kelly Shea and Mark Goodman, as well as three other officers, said Sgt. Joseph Peyton, head of recruitment for the Police Department. Shea, Goodman and Butler participated in the June recruitment.


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