Lt. Lola Abrahamian never intended to become a police officer. She was already enjoying a fruitful and rewarding career she had had since graduating from college, but an interest in criminal law and a chance meeting with the Glendale Police Department led to a ride-along that completely changed the course of her life.
“I went out on the ride-along and I thought this is what I want to do. It was just fun and exciting and I thought, well, this is a lot more fun than becoming a lawyer,” she said with the kind of enchanting, contagious laugh that makes you want to laugh, too. “The problem was that nobody really thought I was serious, because of what I was doing and what I wanted to do.”
What she was doing was a world away from law enforcement. For 14 years, Abrahamian worked in the field of reproductive biology. With combined degrees in microbiology and chemistry, she was a lead embryologist in several Southern California in vitro fertilization facilities, including one of the country’s largest sperm banks.
The leap from giving someone the chance to become parents to patrolling the streets was a big one. And though she loved her career, she was leaning toward a change, one that she was very serious about following through with.
“I tell people, imagine what a wonderful and intriguing thing it is to be able to look at a single sperm and a single egg and then look at a fertilized egg and embryo and then nine months later, see a live baby,” she said. “To this day, I miss it. I didn’t leave because I didn’t like the career, I just had gone as far as I could go.”
After three years as a reserve, Abrahamian transitioned to a patrol officer, but her roles and opportunities within the department have been plentiful and diverse. She was once a crisis negotiator for the city’s SWAT team, worked as a detective in financial crime and assault units and because of her science background, oversaw the fairly new Verdugo Regional Crime Laboratory.
Promoted to lieutenant in 2010, she became North Area Commander last summer. This coming April will be her 14-year anniversary with the Glendale Police Department.
She is in all senses of the word a self-confessed anomaly. With two careers blossoming at different stages in her life, her entrance into law enforcement strays away from the normal career trajectory of a police officer.
Abrahamian might be an anomaly, but she insists she is not unique. Perhaps. But she does exemplify that the only limitations in the world are the ones we (or often others) place on ourselves.
Counting leadership roles in two different fields dominated by men where women are underrepresented in her list of accomplishments, she defies stereotype, does things her way and encourages others to do the same.
Born in Iran to Armenian parents, Abrahamian grew up in Los Angeles along with her two brothers, with whom she was always treated equally. The support and encouragement she received from an early age is what cemented her no-limits attitude.
Her father encouraged her to continue her education and embark on a professional career in order to be self-sufficient.
For her, there are no guides or rules in life, no manuals telling girls this is how you need to be, no societal expectations to conform to, just determination and the will to make your own choices. It’s advice she dispenses to others, too.
“I think it’s important that women need to understand you can do what you want to do and what makes you happy,” she told me from the newly revamped Montrose substation, stressing that doing what makes you happy can encompass anything from staying home and raising kids to having a celebrated career without any offspring at all.
Throughout her career as a police officer, another cause she’s passionate about has come up — working to change domestic violence, a topic which has presented particular challenges, both victims who normalized their husband’s behavior and those who at first resisted speaking to her about it because they saw that they shared the last three letters of their last name.
“I have a genuine understanding as a police officer,” she said of dealing with domestic violence cases. “You want to be supportive for the victim as they go through this process.”
It’s this openness, this duality, in terms of life philosophy and goals that sets Abrahamian apart. She’s a woman, a child of immigrants, an Armenian-American, a police officer, a former scientist and even a Soroptimist, part of an international volunteer organization with the aim to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities.
She’s passionate about the community she serves and is on the board of Glendale Healthy Kids and GAR Services, a Glendale-based organization devoted to providing support for developmentally disabled adults. She’s also involved in Homenetmen, an Armenian diaspora sport and scout organization.
The assignment of North Area Commander was one that Abrahamian had coveted before she got the job. Citing the engagement and pride of residents, she said she’s excited to take a leadership role up north — and the balcony of Southern California is truly lucky to have her.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at email@example.com.