Reiterating its desire to boost the ranks of women police officers, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday set an annual female hiring goal of 43% and bolstered its recruitment campaign.
The city is under a 1981 federal consent decree to increase women’s representation to at least 20%. Women now make up about 14% of the force and legislators view the Los Angeles Police Department expansion pushed by Mayor Richard Riordan as an ideal opportunity to hire more women.
Besides the federal mandate, officials have come to view women officers as an integral part of good policing. The Christopher Commission, which reviewed department practices after the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King, found that women officers are less prone to violence and often can de-escalate volatile situations.
“Women may not look like the officers we’re used to seeing on ‘Dragnet’ or ‘Adam 12' but we have to break that stereotype,” Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said. “Women can do a good job and will make this a better police department.”
Two years ago, the council set a long-term goal of 43% women on the force and increased the annual hiring goal from 25% to 30%. The latest target, which is not binding, raises the annual goal still further, directing the LAPD to attempt to fill each class of Police Academy recruits with 43% women--the same percentage of women in the area work force.
Chief Willie L. Williams said he supports the goal but cautioned that he will not be able to get 43% female classes until recruitment efforts are stepped up dramatically.
“If there is a general goal and it’s, ‘Chief, do the best you can without impacting quality,’ then I can live with that,” he said.
Williams acknowledged that some male officers remain resistant to a substantial increase in women on the force. But he said he as chief supports the idea and will be responsible for bringing it about.
Of the roughly 12,000 people who applied to become officers last year, just under one-quarter of them were women, according to city records. Of those 2,800 women applicants, about one-third were admitted to the academy and roughly 80% of those graduated.
Personnel officials said those statistics show that they need to attract hundreds more women applicants in order to hire 43% female officers without altering standards. Assistant City Atty. Robert Cramer warned the council that hiring women at a much greater rate than men in the applicant pool might be viewed as discriminatory.
The council authorized $250,000 to expand recruitment efforts but officials conceded that it will take much more money in the next city budget to reach the goal. A new task force that includes police officials, city recruiters and women’s advocacy groups is working to come up with more aggressive outreach strategies.
Councilman Marvin Braude had urged his colleagues not to set a firm 43% goal because he said doing so would obligate Williams to hire women who were underqualified. He suggested that the council support the concept of more women officers without setting an annual goal.
“We would have to lower the quality in order to admit more women to the Police Department,” he said.
But Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg argued that the 43% goal was not binding and did not call for the reduction of any standards. It does send an important message, Goldberg said, that the city is serious about hiring more female officers.
Although the new goal does not alter LAPD hiring standards, council members have raised questions about possible discrimination against women in the oral interview and physical abilities test. The six-foot wall that all applicants must scale in order to enter the academy has come under particularly harsh criticism. Women fail to climb the wall at a significantly higher rate than men and some experts have questioned whether the test is useful.
City personnel officials are reviewing the application process to ensure that it is not discriminatory. But making the test fair, officials said, is different from watering it down.
“We specifically have stated that we don’t want standards reduced,” Yaroslavsky said. “Women can do this job and the hiring of women has nothing to do with the diminution of standards.”