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Few Show for Gay Police Seminar

June 15, 1989|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

It was billed as the first gay recruitment seminar for law enforcement officers in Southern California, and the man of the hour was a gay cop named Richard Norton.

His goal: to encourage gays and lesbians to apply as Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

Having delayed last Saturday's seminar in the hope that more people would arrive, Norton surveyed the rows of empty chairs at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium a final time before deciding to begin 20 minutes late.

"If you're gay and want to be a cop, expect to work harder, longer and better than anyone else," he said.

"You won't be able to go to work and say, 'I just had a fight with my lover.' You'll have to learn to leave your personal life at home. If you don't, you need to think twice about why you're here."

Before the afternoon was over he would touch on such subjects as job interview techniques, posture and grooming, and whether to fudge on a psychological exam that asks applicants whether they are attracted to members of their own sex.

But while the unusual program was designed to appeal to gays interested in a career with the Sheriff's Department, this was no Sheriff's Department event. And Norton, who works as a jail deputy with the San Francisco County Sheriff's Department, is not really a recruiter.

Rather, the event represented an effort by officials in West Hollywood--where an estimated 35% of the 37,000 residents are gay and where the Sheriff's Department provides police protection--to improve the odds of gays being hired as deputies.

As the Sheriff's Department prepares to conduct its first decentralized recruitment and testing session in the West Hollywood area on Saturday, however, city officials and gay activists were pessimistic about the prospect of more gays being added to the department's ranks.

"I think you have to face the fact that what we really need are numbers, and we haven't seen them develop," said Mayor Abbe Land, referring to an apparent absence of acknowledged gays who have applied.

Disappointing Numbers

She and other city officials could hardly conceal their disappointment that the half-dozen prospective gay applicants who attended the seminar were substantially outnumbered by curious gay activists, city officials and members of the press.

Yet, the mayor saw a bright side.

"I'm glad we had it, and I think it sends gays the message that we want them. If more don't apply this time around, maybe they will in the future. This was at least a start," she said.

The city, which agreed to help coordinate the general recruitment campaign for the Sheriff's Department culminating in this Saturday's session at Fairfax High School, has focused much of its own efforts on helping recruit gays.

West Hollywood paid the expenses of Norton and Walter Gorski, an acknowledged gay criminologist from Sacramento, to conduct the seminar. Both men are associated with the Golden State Peace Officers Assn., a gay group.

Lingering Perception

Norton said he was disappointed that more prospective applicants did not attend, and blamed the low turnout partly "on the perception that still lingers that the Sheriff's Department doesn't really want gays in its ranks."

Earlier that day, 65 people turned out for an officially sanctioned sheriff's recruitment seminar across the street at the Pacific Design Center. Of those, about 25 signed up to attend this Saturday's recruitment and testing, Sgt. Tony Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said about 200 people have signed up for the session. After extensive testing, background checks and the rigors of 17 weeks of training, only 2% of those who begin the hiring process are expected to become deputies, he said.

"I think you have to respect the fact that the actual numbers of gays who are likely to apply may be small, but we're still optimistic that a few will make it," said gay activist Mario Marich, who is head of a group called Advocates for Better Law Enforcement.

Fair Treatment

"Regardless of how small the numbers are, we're going to be monitoring any and all qualified gay candidates through the entire process to make sure they receive fair and equitable treatment from the Sheriff's Department," he said.

Marich was among several activists at Norton's seminar who expressed the hope that there are more prospective gay applicants out there than the few who chose to attend.

"I think the presence of TV cameras might have something to do with the low turnout," said Mitch Grobeson, a gay former Los Angeles Police Department officer who said he came to offer advice to any applicants who requested it. "I know if I were gay, and I really wanted to be on the Sheriff's Department, there's no way I'd show my face in front of a television camera."

Despite accusations from some gay activists that the Sheriff's Department is not interested in hiring acknowledged gays and lesbians, Sheriff Sherman Block has stated that the department does not discriminate against any group and welcomes "any and all qualified candidates."

Testing Trap

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