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White Male Applicants Struggle for LAPD Jobs : Employment: Even perfect test scores may not be enough. New hiring rules are urged for former officers.


N. Stephen Vallance served as a Los Angeles police officer for 10 years, winning commendations and the respect of his peers and supervisors. He never took a suspension day in his career, and when he left the department in 1991 it was because he wanted to see a little of the country and try raising his son in a safer environment.

Vallance could not stay away. After a few months in Montana, he was drawn back to Los Angeles by the lure of working for what he considered the finest police department in America. He was told he was eligible for reinstatement, but nearly two years later, Vallance still has not regained his LAPD job.

Why? Because Steve Vallance is a white man.

"I love the LAPD. That's why I want back on with the department," said Vallance, who works as an officer with a local school district police department while he tries to win an LAPD job. "But they tell me I can't come back because of the color of my skin."

During an era in which the LAPD simultaneously is tackling two difficult missions--rebuilding and diversifying--Vallance is one of many white male officer candidates who have been prevented from working as officers because of their gender and skin color. That has angered some would-be police officers, especially those who have previously worked for the department or who work as reserves and yet find it difficult to get a full-time job.

Testing requirements for white male officer candidates have become so steep that in some recent classes, only scores of higher than 100--on a 100-point test--qualify a candidate for a job. That limits eligible white males to those who served in Operation Desert Storm because the City Charter gives those candidates a 5-point bonus.

Other white males are turned away, regardless of their qualifications.

The predicament faced by Vallance and other former LAPD officers has drawn the attention of the City Council, where Councilwoman Laura Chick has introduced a motion that would authorize the LAPD to hire candidates who voluntarily left the department and want to return, reserve officers who want to work full-time or transfers who have lost their jobs with other departments because of layoffs.

Chick's motion does not give preference to prospective officers of any race but would address Vallance's situation by giving special preference to candidates who have previously worked for police departments, especially the LAPD. Representatives of a few civil rights groups expressed some concerns about the proposal, warning that they would oppose any effort that might dilute the LAPD's commitment to diversifying its ranks.

But the same officials declined to comment publicly, saying they wanted a chance to review Chick's proposal before speaking out on it.

"It really is an important and good goal to have more gender and ethnic diversity in our Police Department," said Chick, a member of the council's Public Safety Committee. "But we have a double-crisis situation. . . . How can we, in the most cost-effective and expedient way, get the best officers on our streets as soon as possible? That has to be our priority."

What troubles Chick and other observers of the department is not that special efforts have been made to recruit female and minority officers. The department is publicly and legally committed to pursuing diversity in the ranks, a goal that was pushed by the Christopher Commission and endorsed by Chief Willie L. Williams, as well as other leaders inside and outside the LAPD.

The problem, critics say, is that the testing requirements for white male candidates have become so stringent that they are virtually prohibitive.

As of August, the only way for a white male to land a job with the LAPD was to score a perfect 100 on the oral exam given to all police officer candidates. The lowest eligible score for a Latino male was 96, for a black male 95, and for all female candidates 94.

When Vallance took the oral exam in 1991, he scored a 98. Had he been anything but a white male, that would have been high enough to join the department. Instead, he was turned away.

"That appears to be discrimination that is race-based," said Patrick Thistle, a lawyer who handles many police and labor relations cases. "That poses some public policy concerns."

Even the recent qualifying score of 100 is lower than what it has taken on occasion for a white male to join the force. When the qualifying score tops 100, a prospective officer's only hope is obtaining the bonus points for serving in Operation Desert Storm.

"I can't get a job with the LAPD because I didn't serve in Desert Storm," Vallance said. "But I couldn't serve in Desert Storm because I was working for LAPD. How does that make sense?"

Larry Niles, chief of the police and fire selection unit of the city's Personnel Department, acknowledged that the testing requirements for white male candidates have occasionally reached levels unachievable by most white male applicants.

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