She Hits Another Plateau at LAPD : Law enforcement: Only woman captain on the force is now the first of her gender to command a geographical division.
When Jan Carlson left the bucolic calm of Lincoln, Neb., to vacation along the beaches of Los Angeles 27 years ago, she didn’t plan on staying long.
But she never left. And when Carlson joined the Los Angeles Police Department as a clerk/typist two years later, in 1966, she didn’t plan on staying there either.
But stay she did. Carlson has since worked her way up from a civilian police secretary to the highest-ranking female officer in one of the nation’s largest police departments. She is the only woman among the department’s 180 staff officers or upper-level managers who has attained the rank of captain.
“Little did I dream,” Carlson said this week, with a slight chuckle and a roll of her eyes.
Janice L. Carlson, 49, isn’t done making history either. On Dec. 1, she assumed command of the LAPD’s Pacific Division. Her ascension marks the first time that a woman has been appointed to head a geographic police division in the city.
“She’s earned her stripes,” said Deputy Police Chief Glenn Levant, the commanding officer of the Westside’s four police divisions, including Pacific. Levant was instrumental in getting Police Chief Daryl F. Gates to send Carlson to his beachside division, insisting she was the only person for the job.
“It is very much a bonus that Captain Carlson is a woman, but it had nothing to do with her selection for that position,” Levant said. “She’s a most impressive individual, and she will be advancing, I’m sure, as far as she wants to, perhaps even to chief of police, if that is what her career goal is.”
Many others in the department also predict a bright future for Carlson. Over the past 25 years, according to officers and brass alike, Carlson’s dedication to the department has made her among its most respected leaders.
“She’s thought very highly of, and I don’t think that can be said about all women in the department,” said Officer Sharyn Michelson, a spokesman for the department. “She’s such a role model for women in this department, for so many reasons. I’d love to follow in her footsteps.”
In fact, Michelson said she will be promoted to sergeant soon and has already made a special request to be sent to Pacific so she can work for Carlson. “My partner, Bill, is dying to work for her too,” Michelson said.
For Carlson, these are heady times. And most certainly, they are busy times. Her schedule is packed so tight that a few extra minutes spent in one spot can throw off her dizzying lineup of appointments, public appearances and meetings for the rest of the day.
On a sunny morning earlier this week, Carlson sat down just long enough to discuss her new job, her past accomplishments and the unique challenges facing her as she takes the helm of one of the department’s higher profile divisions.
Her first task is to reacquaint herself with the division where she worked as patrol captain from July, 1988, to January, 1990. She plans to spend a lot of time in the station and police outposts, meeting the officers, detectives, community liaisons and civilian support staff. Then she’ll focus on getting out into the community, meeting the various leaders and groups that represent her constituency.
Pacific Division is probably one of the most diverse areas in Los Angeles, Carlson said.
It’s vast sprawl is evident on a large map behind the desk in her sparsely decorated office. Pacific Division stretches south along the coast past Los Angeles International airport to El Segundo, north through the heart of Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Freeway, and as far east as La Brea Avenue in some places.
And its residents are just as diverse as the terrain. The division includes yuppies who live in condos near the beach, and platoons of homeless transients who sleep on the beach. There are housing projects and dozens of divergent immigrant cultures, and also some serious gang territories, some of them in close proximity to beachside mansions.
The division is responsible for helping to police the airport and all the special crime problems that entails, and for watching over Venice Beach, where hundreds of thousands of tourists and beach-goers assemble on any given day. It surrounds the Marina del Rey portion of Los Angeles County, and Pacific officers must act as liaisons to the county sheriff’s deputies who patrol there.
It is a tough assignment by any measure, especially in the summer, when curiosity seekers swarm to the shoreline for a look at quintessential California beach culture.
The division even had a short-lived prime-time TV show named after it this year, complete with a hippie police officer who seemed more at home reading a suspect some poetry than reading him his rights.
“You have everything here,” Carlson said. “It just makes it a fascinating place to work.”
It also has some serious crime and gang problems, Carlson acknowledged.
An immediate priority, she said, will be to implement community-based policing and other measures designed to bring officers closer to their constituents in the wake of the Rodney King beating scandal.
After spending the last two years downtown at LAPD headquarters in Parker Center, Carlson relishes being back in the field. “You’re kind of removed from the bureaucracy out here,” she said.
Carlson left Pacific last year when she was promoted to the LAPD Narcotics Group downtown, and then headed its Internal Affairs Division, another first. She’s also worked Juvenile Division, Harbor Patrol, as a detective in the 77th and Southeast divisions, and in the department’s training division.
As Pacific patrol commander, Carlson earned a reputation as being easy to work with.
“She was very popular when she was here before, not only with the community but with the officers,” said area Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. “Someone who can do that and get the job done is to be treasured.”
Carlson was instrumental, Levant said, in starting a community-based policing detail at the gang-infested Oakwood housing projects.
She is also active in several police organizations, most notably as a board member of the Los Angeles Police Historical Society, which is turning the old Northeast Police Station in Highland Park into a museum for the department. Building that museum is going to take money, however, and Carlson is gearing up for helping in the fund-raising drive.
As Carlson has moved up the ranks, she has had less and less time for such extracurricular pursuits, and even less time for socializing. A single woman with no children, she has gotten accustomed, she said, to 12-hour days. With each new position, the department has become more of a priority in her life.
But she insists on getting weekends off, she jokes, “so I can have some friends around when I retire.”
There have been low points in her career, like trying to get through the Police Academy in 1968, when many male police officers didn’t like the idea of women officers as equals.
Carlson says that since then there have been some critics who have questioned her ability. “But you’ll always have Doubting Thomases, whether you’re male or female,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of support. I’ve had no heavy cross to bear.”
Carlson said she feels a special responsibility to act as a role model for other female officers. By seeing her break barriers within the department, other women can follow suit, she said.
“Women come up to me and say that seeing a woman in my position encourages them,” she said, “and that’s important.”
Carlson, despite her years in the department, is not a victim of burnout. “I am continually amazed at how much I still love my job.”