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Crusading Cop : Fanchon Blake broke the thin blue line's bias barrier in 1973. : Many in LAPD made her suffer for it. But she gets last word.

October 01, 1990|BETH ANN KRIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELLEVUE, Wash. — She is a retired, 69-year-old grandmother who often goes to bed by 7 p.m., residing in a pristinely peaceful artist's colony here, a half hour's drive from Seattle.

But don't send Fanchon Blake off to bake cookies for the artisans' local fund-raisers just yet.

This tough ex-cop and former Army major is the reason why there are now female lieutenants and captains on the Los Angeles Police Department--and why there may eventually be female commanders, deputy chiefs and possibly even a woman chief of police.

She is similarly the reason why female officers in Los Angeles no longer have to be at least 5-feet-6 and can now qualify for the job at merely 5 feet.

And though Blake is white, she is also the reason why there are now more Latino, more black and more Asian officers on the LAPD than ever before.

What's more, she is still a woman to be reckoned with, especially now that she's completing work on "Silent Force," a tell-all autobiography that already has attracted the attention of television producers from a major network.

Blake personally dates the beginning of the end of LAPD's sexual and racial discrimination practices to 1969.

That's when, after 20 years on the LAPD, she was a detective sergeant who had been pushed too far. Or more precisely, not promoted far enough. Like all women officers working under then-Chief of Police Ed Davis, she was forbidden from taking a lieutenant's exam. Sergeant was the highest rank open to female officers at the time, but Blake wanted to move up and be a lieutenant. After four years of taking her complaints before the City Council and the Police Commission with little result, Blake took to the courts. In 1973, she filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the LAPD, which, after seven years in the courts, was finally resolved in 1980.

The department then agreed to two historic consent decrees, vowing to increase the number of women on the force until 20% of sworn officers are female. And it pledged to increase minority representation to equal the minority representation in the Los Angeles work force.

The city also agreed to pay $2 million, for recruiting and training programs aimed at women and minorities and for "monetary relief" to Blake and others denied advancement or employment opportunities.

She walked away with $50,000 for her efforts. Other women on the force picked up anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000 based on the length of their service.

Though it has been 10 years since the decrees, Blake has not forgotten what she went through during the time when Davis openly told women officers he would put them in patrol cars--when then-Rams coach Tommy Prothro put women on the football team's front line.

"I was scared to death to even walk into that police building," Blake recalled, sitting in her home office and describing the day that news of her lawsuit hit the media. The room, dominated by an oak roll-top desk and a computer on which she is writing her book, is filled with framed souvenirs of her stints in both the LAPD and the U.S. Army. "I walked in the police building and they had cleaned out my desk and I was put out in the reception area. I was taken out of investigation work. I was ostracized, given a receptionist's job, basically.

"I found out the silent treatment had been imposed," she said. "Nobody was to talk to me. Nobody was to acknowledge that I was alive. I got out to the reception desk and the phone lit up. Media from all around the world wanted to talk to me."

Then things really got worse.

"For three months after I filed my case, I thought they had let a contract on my life," added Blake, who during her 25 years on the force had worked such assignments as jail division, youth detail, public information and bunco and forgery detail. "I saw somebody from IAD (Internal Affairs Division) following me. My phone was bugged. They deny it vehemently, but I know better.

"Finally," she said, "I was scared enough and about ready for a nervous breakdown. I called a woman at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which, along with the American Civil Liberties Union had joined Blake in her suit). She got the attorney general of the United States to write the city and the department a letter telling them that I was the main plaintiff and that they were responsible for my safety and health until the suit came to trial. Then the department got off my butt a little bit."

A few months later, however, Blake suffered a stroke while she was at work and chalks it up to stress from the suit.

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