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COLUMN ONE : Gay Police Leave the Shadows : Homosexual officers in Los Angeles are heartened by a lawsuit and progress in departments elsewhere. They seek a more open existence on the force.

September 03, 1990|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He is 24 years old, the son of a cop from the Midwest, and enrolled as a recruit at the Los Angeles Police Academy. And because he also happens to be homosexual, he lives a double life, masquerading in a hat and dark glasses when off duty in the gay community, fearful that his fellow recruits or supervisors will stumble upon his true identity.

"I know these people play rough here," he said, afraid to divulge his name. "Something could happen to me. There are people, some hard-core people, who would stop at no lengths to get rid of me.

"I mean, it's one thing to handle the court system and street crime, but something else to have your own brother officers against you."

She is a six-year veteran officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. And because she is a lesbian, she too lives a shadow existence, avoiding the annual police picnic and the Christmas party because she can't bring her lover.

"The walls have ears," she said, also shielding her name. "Nothing happens that your sergeant and your lieutenant and your captain don't know about."

But while gay Los Angeles police officers fear being discovered, many of their counterparts in other major law enforcement agencies in California are open about their homosexuality. They are shedding their hidden identities in response to decisions by police administrators to recruit gay and lesbian officers and to discipline officers who discriminate against their homosexual brethren and sisters.

A new survey by a key California police accreditation agency identifies gays and lesbians as an untapped group of potential police recruits.

Furthermore, the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, a professional organization of police administrators, last fall rescinded its decades-old policy of opposing the hiring of homosexual police officers. "That policy," said Phil Lynn, manager of the association's National Law Enforcement Center, "was one that no longer reflected the views of our organization."

The exact number of gay and lesbian officers in the Los Angeles Police Department is unknown; of 8,400 officers, not one single man or woman is openly homosexual, according to police administrators. Local gay activists suggest that the number mirrors the city's percentage of homosexual citizens--perhaps as high as 10%--but police administrators say they know of only a few "suspected" gay and lesbian officers.

But regardless of their numbers, and after years of working incognito inside the department, closeted gay and lesbian officers are growing hopeful because of a lawsuit filed by a gay sergeant who contends he was threatened and harassed off the force by fellow officers.

Gays and lesbians are hoping his suit will change the policies at Parker Center to conform with those of other major police agencies in the nation, put an end to alleged discrimination by heterosexual officers of their homosexual counterparts and, perhaps most important, launch new police recruitment drives aimed at the city's gay and lesbian community.

Gay activists believe that if the police hire more people from within their community, relations with police could improve and, likewise, make many heterosexual officers sensitive to problems in the gay community.

Homosexual officers are hoping that they need no longer work publicly in a dark-blue police uniform while living private lives in a cloak of secrecy.

"It's going to happen," vowed Mitchell Grobeson, the former Los Angeles police sergeant who brought the suit. "It has to happen. Otherwise, the number of lawsuits will be so exorbitant to the city of Los Angeles that it will be too costly for the department not to."

In an environment that demands loyalty, gay officers see Police Chief Daryl F. Gates as their foe. And the chief made it clear in a recent interview that while he will not tolerate harassment among his troops, he also will not compromise on the issue of selectively recruiting gay and lesbian officers.

Under Gates, the department does not specifically exclude homosexuals from among its ranks. But the department also does not actively target gays and lesbians for recruitment, as it does other minorities.

"In the factors that go into being a police officer," the chief said, "sexual preference is irrelevant. It should stay irrelevant. And it will stay irrelevant while I have anything to say about it. I guarantee that."

Indeed, Sgt. Ed Mautz, a longtime recruitment officer, said the department only once in the last decade actually tried to attract homosexuals to the force, when it set up a recruitment booth at the Gay Pride parade.

"Not one person came up and asked us about our recruitment program," he said. "Now, granted, this was seven years ago and attitudes may have changed by now. But we got no response at all from gays or lesbians.

"In fact, the only people who did come up to talk to us were punk rockers with spiked hair and steel boots, and they just came up to laugh at us."

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