For the second Saturday in a row, a large group gathered in front of the Los Angeles Police Department's Foothill Division, which patrols the area where the infamous Rodney G. King beating took place.
But unlike last weekend, this group did not denounce police brutality and demand the ouster of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. These men and women were seeking to join the ranks of Los Angeles police officers.
In an effort both to improve community relations in the wake of the King beating and to double the number of Latino and women officers, the department held a special recruitment day Saturday at the Foothill Division.
The Police Department holds regular recruiting days at several locations, but this was the first staged at the Foothill station since the King beating on March 3.
The program, which drew about 60 applicants, including 17 women, featured an information seminar and one-on-one interviews with police recruiters. Participants also took a written aptitude test.
"I'd say we got a good turnout," said Theresa Adams, an official with the force's personnel department. "The female numbers are average, but the Hispanic numbers seem to be high." An exact breakdown of the group's ethnic composition was not immediately available.
Although the Foothill station has been the site of several protests in past weeks, no anti-police sentiments were voiced Saturday among the eager applicants.
Many said they were trying to realize a long-standing desire to be a police officer and that the beating did not reflect badly on the department.
Suzanne Gaxiola, 23, of Arleta said she had always wanted to interact with the community as a law enforcement officer. "I think I would do a good job. Eventually, I'd like to be a homicide detective."
Of the King beating, Gaxiola said, "It's just something that got a little bit out of hand."
"What happened was a reflection of those officers, not of the Police Department," said Jim Sutton, 22, who traveled from Oxnard for the recruitment session. "I know that being a police officer is what I really want to do, and this is where I want to do it."
Jerry Monasmith, 21, a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, also said that the King controversy had not swayed him from his lifelong dream of being a Los Angeles police officer.
"The whole thing was blown way out of proportion," Monasmith said. "One bad thing happens, and everyone wants to give Gates the hook. Why don't they look at all the good things he's done instead of this one bad incident?"
The King beating was not directly addressed during the hourlong information seminar, in which four recruiting officers informed the audience of requirements for the department and the training regimen. However, one of the speakers, Officer William Carter, stressed the necessity of "positive community contact."
"As officers, you have to police yourself, and you will have to police each other," Carter said.
Nelson Walker, 31, one of three black applicants at the session, said he was not deterred from applying for a job with a department that has been accused of racism.
"It's like saying that all white people are prejudiced," said Walker, an aerospace worker who fears he may be laid off soon. "The Rodney King thing was just the work of a few bad apples."
Shelby McNeil, 23, of Santa Clarita, one of 17 women who attended the session, said she also felt that the King incident has been overblown. "Sure, the officers acted a little excessively, but look at Rodney King's background," she said. "He wasn't exactly a model citizen."
The Los Angeles Police Department is constantly recruiting new officers, including minorities and women. The department offers written aptitude tests at the Police Academy in Elysian Park on Sundays and at the North Hollywood station every Wednesday night, said personnel spokeswoman Theresa Adams. The population of the Pacoima-based patrol area has a large concentration of Latinos, one of the groups targeted in the department's current campaign to fill 450 empty positions. The department currently includes 1,794 Latino officers, or 21% of its 8,300-officer force, Adams said. It wants to raise the number to 40% to reach parity with the city's Latino population according to the 1990 U.S. census, she said.