The Los Angeles City Council will soon be tackling the politically charged issue of determining whether the face of the "new" LAPD should mirror that of the public generally. The proposal on the table--the brainchild of a feminist legal-rights organization and introduced by Council members Jackie Goldberg and Zev Yaroslavsky--would require that all incoming LAPD classes be at least 43.4% female, the precise proportion of women in the work force.
Only in a politically correct world could such a proposal, which was made without any supporting data or study, rise to the level of political salability. Under closer scrutiny, however, it is clear that the so-called gender-equity plan would not only be disastrous for the morale and effectiveness of the department; it also would present a very real danger for the safety of the public.
Proponents of the plan acknowledge that the 43% quota cannot be reached under the LAPD's current hiring practices; there are simply insufficient numbers of qualified women candidates able to pass the department's physical abilities test. Even now, only 55% of female applicants--as compared with 93% of male applicants--are able to pass the test.
Proponents nonetheless suggest that the quota can be reached because certain elements of the physical testing, such as scaling "the wall" and several other tests of upper body strength, do not relate to job performance and should be abandoned. This is simply feminist fantasy.
Police officers, whether male or female, must have the strength and the endurance to use force effectively when it becomes necessary to do so, including the upper body strength to apprehend suspects and to climb obstacles during a foot chase. The safety of the public in some instances depends on these abilities. The criteria for upper-body strength must therefore be maintained, unimpeded by the political agenda of those who have the ear of certain members of the City Council.
Advocates of the Goldberg-Yaroslavsky motion attempt to draw attention away from the physical requirements of the job by focusing on the "feminist approach to policing," the perception that women officers possess a unique ability to defuse tense situations. Yaroslavsky supports this argument by pointing to the Christopher Commission's finding that female officers are involved in incidents of excessive use of force at rates substantially below those of male officers. This finding, however, is by itself an insufficient basis from which to draw any conclusions.
The Christopher Commission, restricted in its inquiry by the narrow directive of the Police Commission, never studied the many other factors relevant to gender-based assessments of performance, such as the relative rates of force used against, and the relative effectiveness of the use of force by, female and male officers.
More fundamentally, the gender equity plan ignores the substantial progress the department has already made in adding women to the force. Over the past 12 years, the department's hiring goal, which was raised to 30% in 1992, has resulted in a fivefold increase in the proportion of women in the corps of sworn officers.
The proposal to again raise the hiring goal is founded on the unexplained principle that somehow it is satisfactory for certain professions to be skewed in relation to women in the work force, but others, such as policing, must display perfect symmetry to that same benchmark. No reasoned argument has ever been advanced for why this must be the case.
In their urgency to reach this result, and in disregard for their responsibilities to the city, Goldberg and Yaroslavsky also ignore the legal exposure that the gender equity plan would create. In recent years, only 22% of LAPD applicants have been women (a figure that is substantially higher than the 13%-17% average of other California law enforcement agencies). The plan requires that women be hired at a rate that is double their proportion in the LAPD's applicant pool. Doing so would cost the city enormous sums to defend reverse-discrimination claims brought by male applicants passed over in favor of lower-testing female applicants.
Hiring more female officers is an admirable and worthwhile goal. However, the Los Angeles Women Police Assn., an organization committed to this end but nonetheless opposed to the gender-equity plan, recognizes the appropriate ordering of priorities: The proper issue for the Police Department and the City Council is not how many women should be hired, but rather how more women can be hired without sacrificing the effectiveness of the force.