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Woman Is Promoted to Chief : Law enforcment: Helena Ashby, a 31-year veteran, is the first female to hold that rank in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A woman who once headed the Sybil Brand Institute for Women was promoted to chief in the county Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday, the first woman to hold that rank.

Helena Ashby, a 31-year-veteran of the department, was one of four new chiefs named Wednesday. Ashby, 53, said the department has changed its attitude toward women significantly since she began her career.

“Women now have access to all jobs,” Ashby said. “The world has changed and so has the position of women in the department. More positions are open where women can work.”

Ashby said a major change came in the 1970s “when women started doing the full range of services, including working patrol. There are a lot of challenges here, a lot of things to do. And I’ve been having fun.”

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Sheriff Sherman Block said the department has been a leader in the hiring of women.

“We did it without consent decrees or court orders,” he said.

Block said the department changed its policies concerning women since he joined the department.

“When I came on, there were separate exams for female deputy sheriffs,” who were limited to working in the women’s jail or on juvenile investigations, he said.

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“They never worked out in a radio car,” Block said. “You never saw them in a homicide investigation.”

A monitor appointed by the County Board of Supervisors to track reforms in the department issued a report last month praising Block for reforms he has initiated.

Attorney Merrick J. Bobb said Block has initiated recruiting policies that promise to fashion a more diverse uniformed force--with more women and minorities.

Ashby, an African American who has risen through the department’s ranks, “is not being promoted because she is a woman,” Block said. She will be one of eight chiefs and will oversee the department’s detective division.

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In the department’s command structure, chiefs are outranked only by assistant sheriffs, the undersheriff and the sheriff.

Ashby, who holds a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, lives in Rolling Hills Estates with her husband, Verne. The couple’s son Verne Jr. is a Marine Corps sergeant.

The other chiefs promoted Wednesday were Kenneth Bayless, Gerald Minnis and Mark Squiers. Former Chief Michael Graham was promoted to assistant sheriff.

Assistant Sheriffs Robert Ciulik and Duane Preimsberger, and Chiefs Larry Anderson, William Baker and Buford Smith announced their retirements Wednesday.

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“This is a significant loss of executive talent at this time,” Block said.

Such turnover in the department is cyclical, he said. Five years ago, the department experienced a similar wave of top-brass retirements, he said.


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