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Activist Calls W. Hollywood Effort to Recruit Gay Deputies a Failure

August 13, 1989|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

A much-publicized effort by the city of West Hollywood to help recruit gays as deputies for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was a failure, the head of a gay rights group says.

Mario Soliz-Marich, interim director of Advocates for Better Law Enforcement, a watchdog group set up in May to monitor the gay recruitment process, said that only about half a dozen acknowledged gays expressed serious interest and that "insofar as we've been able to determine, not a single openly gay person has become involved in the hiring process."

'Lack of Interest'

"All in all, it was a failure," Soliz-Marich said, blaming the Sheriff's Department for what he termed "a lack of interest in recruiting gays" and city officials for "a poorly coordinated, even if well-intentioned, effort."

However, Mayor Abbe Land took exception to the group's assessment.

"I wouldn't call it a failure," she said. "We put the word out and did everything we could to make sure gays and lesbians got a fair shot, and I hope we laid a foundation for future recruitments."

The Sheriff's Department conducted its first-ever general recruitment and testing in the West Hollywood area in June, after refusing requests from West Hollywood officials to seek gays in a manner similar to the way it recruits racial and ethnic minorities.

35% of Residents Gay

As part of a compromise, the Sheriff's Department authorized West Hollywood officials to coordinate what amounted to a shadow recruitment effort aimed largely at the gay community.

The Sheriff's Department provides police services to West Hollywood, where an estimated 35% of the 37,000 residents are gay, under an $8.6-million contract that expires next year.

Although city officials have praised the Sheriff's Department's crime-fighting abilities, gays have frequently complained to the City Council about being harassed by deputies.

Gay rights activists, who were critical of the compromise arrangement, said last week that they were not surprised that the drive appeared to have missed the mark.

"City officials made a big error in assuming that just because they wanted gay and lesbian recruits, they would get them," said Sandy Dwyer, publisher of the News, a gay newspaper. "You won't get gay applicants until the Sheriff's Department makes it clear it wants them, and it hasn't exhibited a willingness to do that."

However, other activists were more optimistic.

"Whatever can be said about its success or failure, the recruitment had the effect of putting gays and lesbians in the public eye," said Kim Kralj, an art gallery owner. "If nothing else, I'm hopeful that it has made the Sheriff's Department sit up and take notice."

Of 223 applicants who took a written exam at Fairfax High School in June, 106 passed, sheriff's officials said. Of those, 76 passed interviews and background checks to qualify for the department's 17-week training academy.

Question Not Asked

Cmdr. Bill Baker, who oversees several sheriff's stations, including the one in West Hollywood, said the department has no way of knowing the sexual orientation of the applicants "because we don't ask."

The Sheriff's Department says it does not discriminate against gays or any other group; officials have also frequently pointed out that sexual orientation is a "non-merit issue" outside the protection of affirmative action laws.

Gay rights activists, however, claim that the department takes a dim view of hiring gays and that gay deputies are afraid to be open about their sexual orientation. Gay activists say there are no acknowledged gays among the department's more than 7,000 deputies.

Some activists who wanted the city to take a stronger stand in favor of gay recruitment assailed the dual recruitment arrangement, saying it sent a message that the Sheriff's Department views gays as second-class citizens.

Right to OK Ads

Under the agreement, the Sheriff's Department reserved the right to approve recruitment ads and in which publications they would be placed. The department refused to allow the ads to be run in the gay press, citing a policy against advertising in publications that contain sexually explicit material.

But city officials defied the department and placed an ad in the program guide of the annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, sponsored by Christopher Street West.

At the private urging of city officials, the department agreed to place recruitment ads in the News but, Dwyer said, abruptly canceled the ads the day after two City Council members held a news conference calling for the creation of a Public Safety Commission to hear complaints from gays and others who claim abuses by deputies.

City Held Seminar

When more than 60 prospective applicants showed up for a Sheriff's Department-sponsored seminar at the Pacific Design Center, the city held its own seminar for gay recruits across the street at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium. It was conducted by a gay San Francisco County sheriff's deputy.

The event attracted only five prospective applicants, who were far outnumbered by members of the press, city officials and curious gay activists.

At the seminar, Land pledged to help any applicants who encountered problems with the Sheriff's Department.

"Nobody took me up on my offer, and we haven't heard anything as to who, if anyone, from that group went through with the process," the mayor said last week. In separate interviews in June, the five prospective gay applicants doubted whether they would be accepted by the Sheriff's Department and said that, if they applied, they did not intend to reveal their sexual orientation.

Soliz-Marich said that of the half a dozen gays his group monitored, only one is thought to be still interested in applying, "and that individual did not participate in the testing in June. He said he might later, at some other location."

"I think it's safe to say that all of the acknowledged gays fell through the cracks."

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