Gender Bias Exists in LAPD, Report Says : Discrimination: Advisory council recommends major changes in hiring to increase the percentage of women in the department.

Share via

Finding that hiring and promotion practices perpetuate a “culture of gender bias” in the Los Angeles Police Department, a new report calls for more women in the ranks and a policy of “brains over brawn.”

The LAPD not only continues to value brute strength over negotiating skills, it has been woefully lax in pursuing complaints of sexual harassment and domestic violence by its own officers, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

Prepared by the Women’s Advisory Council to the Police Commission, the nearly 100-page report links the department’s alleged tolerance of sexism to officers’ response to violent crimes against women. Felony arrests for spousal abuse, it notes, have dropped over the last three years, despite a rise in the number of reported incidents.


“It is no coincidence that violent crimes against women are minimized in a police department culture which often minimizes, discriminates against, and harasses the few women police officers in its ranks,” the report states.

Sexism will also hamper the department’s transition to community-based policing, a key recommendation in the Christopher Commission report that followed the Rodney King beating and a cornerstone of Chief Willie L. Williams’ goals for the department, the new study warns.

A spokesman for the department said Williams would have no comment until the report becomes public.

Community-based policing is an increasingly popular style of law enforcement that emphasizes crime prevention and working with civilians. Female officers are especially well-suited for community policing, the report says, because they are better communicators and less likely to use firearms than their male counterparts.

Thus, the report, to be outlined within the next week at a Parker Center press conference, urges the LAPD to become at least 44% female--to match the percentage of women in the city’s work force--and lists more than 160 detailed recommendations for reaching that goal. Currently, 14% of the LAPD’s 7,600 officers are women, up from 2% in 1981, the report says. Under a 1981 court order, the department was obligated to increase the number of women officers to achieve a minimal goal of 20%.

“They can’t achieve community-oriented policing without doing this,” said Katherine Spillar, co-chair of the advisory council and national coordinator of the Feminist Majority Foundation.


The report also recommends that the department create a new unit to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination. It should have equal stature to the Internal Affairs Division and operate outside LAPD headquarters at Parker Center to provide maximum privacy.

Spillar said the advisory council’s recommendations should mesh well with the sweeping plan for the LAPD unveiled last week by Williams and Mayor Richard Riordan, who hope to add about 3,000 officers to the force over the next five years.

“Women are going to play a critical role in the new LAPD,” said Spillar. “This gives them an opportunity to more quickly gender-balance the department.”

Although the cost of expanding the police force has always been an issue, the price of hiring more women officers now will ultimately save the city money in legal costs stemming from brutality complaints, the report states.

In its milestone study of the department, the Christopher Commission found that women comprised only 3.4% of the officers involved in the most serious lawsuits filed against the LAPD between 1986 and 1990. The study also found that of the 120 officers involved in the greatest numbers of use-of-force incidents, none were female, and concluded that more women would benefit the force.

The 23-member Women’s Advisory Council was appointed by the Police Commission at the suggestion of former Police Commissioner Ann Reiss Lane to expand the Christopher Commission’s findings on gender bias and come up with remedies.


The Women’s Advisory Council was composed of representatives of legal and women’s groups--such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Women’s Law Center--along with a retired LAPD officer, Diane Harber, and Penny Harrington, former police chief of Portland, Ore.

Its resulting report, about 18 months later, is largely based on detailed analyses of existing LAPD policies and procedures, as well as interviews with between 75 and 100 officers. More than 50 were women who came forward with tales of rampant harassment and discrimination and described a work environment in which women were clearly unwelcome, Spillar said.

“Women told of being constantly tested and baited, or deprived of the usual network of officer support,” the report states, citing a 1987 LAPD study described as still true.

In some police stations, the report states, women officers have been segregated during roll call and forced to sit at the front of the room, a gesture that is isolating and humiliating.

The report’s sources also complained that male officers accused of harassment on the job or violence at home are rarely, if ever, prosecuted on criminal charges. And internally, the department only halfheartedly investigates such complaints for possible misconduct charges, according to the report. No data was included in the report because the department would not make it available, Spillar said.

Linking internal and external practices, the report points out that felony arrests for domestic violence have decreased while reported incidents have gone up.


Department figures show that in 1991, there were 39,154 domestic violence incident reports and 8,276 arrests for felony spousal abuse. In 1992, incident reports rose by 4,537 to 43,691 but arrests decreased to 8,004. During the first quarter of 1993, the trend continued with nearly 200 fewer arrests than during the same period the year before. Since the mid-1980s, state law requires police to keep written records of their calls on domestic violence.

Other examples of continued sexism cited in the report:

* The police chief’s liaison for women’s concerns, known as the “women’s coordinator,” spends nearly a third of her time providing “family support” services for the widows and children of slain and deceased officers--responsibilities that “smack of gender bias and stereotyping.”

* Recruits are still culled mainly from military bases, security guard companies and other male bastions rather than from among teachers, social workers and other service-oriented occupations.

In addition, recruitment brochures “reflect a prevailing notion of policing as a rough-and-tumble career for which only ‘John Waynes’ need apply.” Women, meanwhile, are sought out through “cosmetic giveaways and celebrity appearances at city-sponsored women’s career conferences.”

* The physical abilities entrance test still includes scaling a six-foot wall and doing chin ups from from a hang bar, skills that depend on upper body strength and automatically eliminate many female applicants.

Yet, the report states, sworn officers are never retested on those skills as part of their regular re-qualifying exams, evidence that the feats are not crucial to job performance and are included primarily to screen out women.


* Oral interview panelists, who screen candidates for admission to the police academy, deliberately inflate men’s scores “because they erroneously assume that a white male has to score drastically higher than women or minority males to get hired.”

The practice, the report states, “has hampered efforts to hire significantly larger numbers of women and has falsely created the impression that ‘inferior’ women and minority men have been hired over more qualified white males.”

Recommendations include:

* A gender-balanced Police Commission. The five-member board now includes only one woman, attorney Deirdre Hill.

The report also calls for gender-balancing on the oral interview panels used in hiring and promotion, and in the teams of officers who respond to domestic violence calls.

* An immediate end to recruiting at military bases because the practice “guarantees a male dominated recruitment base,” plus an aggressive advertising campaign aimed at women.

* All payments of judgments and settlements for sexual and racial bias claims should come out of the LAPD budget rather than city coffers.


* Psychological evaluations need to be revised for better screening of applicants who are not only violent, but who have negative attitudes toward women and who may be prone to “spousal or child abuse, sexual harassment, and non-payment of spousal or child support.”

Conclusions of the Advisory Council

Major findings of the Women’s Advisory Council report on women in the Los Angeles Police Department:

* A “culture of gender bias” has been perpetuated in the LAPD by hiring and promotion practices. Just 14% of 7,600 officers are female.

* Sexism will hamper the department’s transition to community-based policing, which needs negotiating and communication skills with which women officers excel.

* Arrests for domestic violence last year decreased at a time when reports of such violence rose by more then 10%--a trend that the report links to the department’s tolerance of sexism within its ranks.

* Recruiting focuses on military bases and security firms rather than on teachers, social workers and other service-oriented professions.


Major recommendations:

* A gender-balanced police commission. Only one woman sits on the five-member commission.

* The department should add women until they make up 44% of the force, matching the proportion of women in the overall work force. Mayor Richard Riordan’s plan to provide added police presents a perfect opportunity to work toward these goals.

* Payments for sex and race bias claims should come out of the LAPD budget, rather than city general funds.

* A new unit, on a footing equal to the Internal Affairs Division, should be created to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination within the LAPD.

Source: Women’s Advisory Council to the Los Angeles Police Commission

Commission Advisers Members of the Women’s Advisory Council to the Los Angeles Police Commission include:

* Carol Arnett, Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council

* Nancy Baker, sexual harassment consultant

* J. E. Aeliot Boswell, attorney

* Theresa Bustillos, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund

* Sandra Cacavas, Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women

* Marissa Castro, Asian/Pacific Women’s Network

* Patricia Giggans, Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women

* Diane Harber, retired LAPD officer

* Penny Harrington, former chief of police, Portland, Ore.

* Evelyn Knight, People Coordinated Services

* Abby Leibman, Women’s Law Center

* Jennifer McKenna, California Women’s Law Center

* Susan Milman, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

* Betty Nordwind, Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law

* Lupe Perez, Commission Feminil de Los Angeles

* Gail Pincus, Domestic Violence Council

* Roberta Reddick, retired LAPD officer

* Constance L. Rice, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

* Sharon Shelton, Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center

* Katherine Spillar, co-chair, Feminist Majority Foundation national coordinator

* Caroline C. Vincent, attorney

* Donna Wade, Gay & Lesbian Task Force

* Theodora Wells, consultant