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A Slow Change in Attitudes for the LAPD

Looking back, Los Angeles seemed like a fine place to be back in 1985. There was that Olympian afterglow, and people far and wide considered the city “laid back,” even “mellow.” El Lay sure didn’t seem like a riot waiting to happen.

But 1985 also happened to be the year that LAPD brass first heard complaints that lurking within the West Los Angeles Division was a virulent strain of male chauvinism called “Men Against Women,” as well as an informal clan known as WASP, for “White Anglo Saxon Police.”

West L.A.'s first black female rookie officer testified about training officers who wouldn’t so much as talk to her. When one splashed her with gasoline at the station pump, she speculated that it might have been a Men Against Women initiation rite. Another black female officer told of a training officer who issued a strange challenge, saying he would fight her and another female officer “and choke us both in so many minutes--things like that. . . . He would send me messages like ‘You should be a secretary’ and ‘Why don’t you go dance on Soul Train?’ ”

Chief Daryl Gates reacted with the leadership for which he was famous. When The Times uncovered the allegations and asked questions about Men Against Women, LAPD brass pretty much said, heck, boys will be boys. Here’s how former Times staff writer David Freed reported it then:

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The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Cmdr. William Booth, conceded that “a couple” of white officers were involved in “some pranksterisms” at the West Los Angeles station, but Booth said that their actions were “intended as a joke.” Those involved were “strongly counseled” and the group was disbanded soon after allegations of improper behavior were raised, he said.

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Read more than a decade later, Booth’s tone and terminology make for a telling contrast to the recent LAPD report into former Det. Mark Fuhrman’s notorious audiotaped descriptions of police brutality and other misconduct. Investigators concluded that Fuhrman’s comments, which may have doomed the double murder prosecution of O.J. Simpson, were largely exaggerations or fabrications. But they also confirmed that Men Against Women, of which the detective was a member, had over a 10-year period created a “hostile work environment” in the West Los Angeles Division.

Confirmation that Men Against Women had survived the strong counseling of a couple of pranksters hardly came as a surprise. More shocking was the recent revelation that more than 60 LAPD officers accused of domestic abuse were not arrested during a five-year period ending in 1992, the year Gates resigned. Critics have called this a double standard and a whitewash. The LAPD command says that, in more recent years, the department has been more aggressive in both disciplining and providing follow-up counseling in such cases.

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But amid these troubling reports, congratulatory bouquets kept arriving this week to the office of Cmdr. Betty P. Kelepecz, whose promotion from captain last Friday made her the first woman to achieve that rank within the LAPD. A 17-year veteran, she is thus uniquely qualified to comment on the department’s history of female troubles--or rather, male troubles.

“A number of people think women still shouldn’t be police officers,” Kelepecz says. The more she encountered that attitude, she adds, “the more I considered it a challenge to stay and succeed.”

The new commander says she doesn’t doubt, however, that other capable women may have been driven from the job by harassment. As Booth’s comments would suggest, brass once perceived hazing as “all part of the fun of the day,” Kelepecz says. “And we as women accepted that because it was part of being in a male-dominated organization. It was the dues we had to pay. . . . I could write a book on the things that occurred.”

The change of attitudes between then and now, she says, is dramatic. Instead of winking at sexual harassment, she says, the LAPD now takes allegations very seriously.

Too seriously, some people complain. After Cmdr. Tim McBride was recently cleared of charges involving women he says he casually addressed as “babe,” some people said it was political correctness run amok. Even now, a top Police Academy grad is trying to launch a career that has been sidetracked by his admission that he had repeated a racially insensitive joke he heard on the radio.

This may well be overreaction. Then again, look back at the LAPD described in that 1985 story: Latino officers told of being called “Julio” and “wetback” by their own partners. Black officers told of being expected to tolerate white colleagues referring to black suspects as “niggers.” One black veteran motorcycle officer wound up filing for a stress-related pension. Among the things he endured, he said, was colleagues calling him “Sambo.”

Yeah, some of those guys were a real riot.


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