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Women Officers Are Still a Rarity : Police Officials Find Too Few Interested, Physically Qualified; Supervisory Ranks Remain Male Preserve

May 10, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

Whittier police officer Mary Spadoni craned her neck so the blood streaming from her nose would not soak her blouse.

She had been punched in the face while helping to break up a melee in a park, but what was foremost on her mind was a lieutenant back at the station, someone she considered a "woman hater."

"He said someday you're going to come in here covered with blood and I'm going to laugh," Spadoni, Whittier's first female patrol officer, said in a recent interview. "That was his way of letting me know he didn't think I belonged on patrol or could handle it. If I came in there and had blood on my blouse his prophecy would come true."

Women police officers generally have won acceptance since that incident more than 15 years ago, and there are more females in law enforcement than ever before. But women are still sorely under-represented on the forces that police Southeast Los Angeles County and Long Beach, and they still sometimes swim against a tide of thought that holds they are inferior to their male counterparts.

Only 3.1% Women

Of the 673 sworn employees in 10 police departments from Compton to Whittier, only 21, or 3.1% are women. In Long Beach, the 644-member police force includes 48 women--7.5% of the sworn personnel. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols Commerce, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Lakewood and other areas in the Southeast, boasts 741 females--11.5%--of 6,418 full-time, sworn department members.

There are still fewer women up the ranks. Long Beach has one woman lieutenant and one sergeant. Compton is the only other police department in the area to have a woman who holds at least the rank of sergeant.

Of the Sheriff's Department's 55 captains, only three are women, spokeswoman Deputy Willie Miller said. The department's 32 top administrative positions are held by men.

Few Females Interested

Area law enforcement officials queried by The Times said they would like to see more women in uniform. But they said few females are interested, and many who are cannot meet the physical standards to enter and graduate from an academy.

"I'd like to see the Police Department be a mirror image of the community it serves, but the reality of it is it's not going to happen," said Montebello Police Chief Leslie D. Sourisseau, who has four women officers on his 75-member force. "The fact is, the numbers who apply at the entry level are significantly lower than (for) males."

The chief's assessment is supported by Sheriff's Department statistics. About four times as many men as women applied to become sheriff's deputies from 1982 to 1986. And of the female applicants during the five-year period, only 1.5% graduated from the Sheriff's Academy, one of three academies that train most law enforcement officers in the Southeast.

Dana Dunwoody is part of a new generation of female police officers, women who work the streets with guns on their hips and who are likely to draw graveyard shifts like their male counterparts.

There were many who doubted Dunwoody would have the nerve to return to work for the Long Beach Police Department after she was nearly run down in September, 1983, when she and her partner tried to stop a suspect who commandeered their police cruiser.

After only six weeks on the job, Dunwoody found herself draped over the hood of the police car clinging on for her life. Moments later, she was skidding, bouncing and rolling in the street as the car turned and sped away with her partner hanging onto the light bar. Dunwoody got up from the pavement and ran after the car.

A few blocks away, Dunwoody's partner, Officer David Esrey, fired two shots through the roof of the vehicle, wounding the 23-year-old driver. The car smashed into a parked car and Esrey was catapulted through the air. The suspect was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and auto theft.

Dunwoody missed about a month of work with a compressed disk in her back and an injured knee. Esrey leg was broken.

Family Listened to Radio

"I was OK through the whole thing until I talked to (my) family and heard they had heard the whole thing on the scanner," Dunwoody, 24, said in a recent interview. "They were probably scared to death. That's the only part that bothered me.

"It made me want to go out and do it more," she said. "I didn't want to quit."

It wasn't long ago that women like Dunwoody could not enter the fray of daily patrol, an experience the officers said they need to gain equal footing with men.

In the Sheriff's Department, for example, women began patrol in a pilot program in 1972, Miller said. Now about 10% of the department's sworn women officers work patrol.

Women began patrolling the streets of Long Beach in 1973, while Compton began assigning women to patrol duties two years later. Montebello had its first woman patrol officer in 1978, and Bell-Cudahy hired its first and only female patrol officer last year.

Before then, the woman officer's role was mostly that of jail matron and as investigators working rape and child-abuse cases.

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