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Fire, Police Forces Faulted on Diversity : Demographics: Women and minorities are underrepresented in Southland departments, ACLU study says. Laguna Beach Police Department, however, is one of the 'most well-integrated.'

October 26, 1994|BETTINA BOXALL and NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Despite some improvements, fire and police departments in Southern California remain overwhelmingly segregated by race and sex and are largely the domain of white males, according to a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report, released today, found large disparities between the racial and gender makeup of departments and the populations they serve.

"It was even worse than I thought it would be," said Allan Parachini, who oversaw the study as director of public affairs for the ACLU of Southern California.

The report, which surveyed 107 police departments and 80 fire departments in eight Southern California counties, concluded that:

* Although some fire and police departments have made modest gains in recruiting African Americans, they have for the most part failed to keep pace with ethnic changes that are reshaping the region.

* Women are "woefully underrepresented" on forces.

* Although police departments have very poor rates of sex and race integration, fire departments are substantially worse.

* Command structures of police and fire departments are more segregated than the rank and file.

Using a measure of integration common in research, the ACLU ranked departments on how well their composition reflected that of their communities. Thus, a diverse force such as Compton's--which is 59% African American--is still considered segregated by that standard because there are significantly fewer Latinos and women in the Police Department than in the city.

In Orange County, the Brea, Costa Mesa and Los Alamitos police departments appeared on the ACLU's top 20 "most segregated" list. The Laguna Beach Police Department, however, was recognized as one of the "most well-integrated."

The Laguna Beach department is 84% white in a community that is 90.6% white. The department's percentage of African Americans and Latinos is twice that of the community's, and the percentage of Asian American officers equals that of Asian Americans in the city.

In contrast, the Laguna Beach Fire Department was among the 15 most segregated, the report said. All 38 firefighters are white males.

Laguna Fire Chief Richard Dewberry said, "The bottom line is the people most qualified are the ones we've hired. And we hire without regard toward color or sex. In recent years, we've had no females apply, though the hiring process is done through the city. It looks like we're racist and that's just not the case."

Fire departments in La Habra, Orange and San Clemente, which recently dismantled its department, also were on the ACLU's list of 15 most segregated.

Antony Pate, director of research for the nonprofit Police Foundation in Washington, said the regional portrait of predominantly white male police forces is "not unlike what we and others are finding around the country."

Latinos and women in particular are underrepresented, Pate noted.

At the same time, Pate pointed out that many forces are far more diverse than they used to be. "If you look where they started from 20 or 30 years ago, many departments have made notable progress," he said.

"It's not going to happen as a matter of course," Pate continued. "The departments that have made the most significant progress are the departments that have made the most concerted efforts to recruit women and minorities."

Local officials say it will take time for their departments to adjust to the massive demographic shifts of the 1980s, and argued that the ACLU study does not accurately reflect the efforts they are making to keep pace. Many departments say many of their white male personnel were hired more than 20 years ago, when their communities looked different.

"You don't throw out all the police department you have now and hire all Mexicans," said William F. Reed, chief of the Huntington Park Police Department, which has seen its community evolve from a white, middle-class suburban enclave in the 1950s to a largely Latino city that is frequently the first stop for newly arrived immigrants from Mexico.

Indeed, Reed said the ACLU would probably file a suit against his department if it simply laid off its veterans because they are white.

"The ACLU's time would be better spent targeting agencies they know have discriminatory hiring practices, rather than just issuing broad statistical statements," Reed said.

Capt. Tom Lazar of the Costa Mesa Police Department faulted the ACLU study, naming three Japanese American officers on a force that the ACLU study says has no Asians or Pacific Islanders.

Saying he had never before heard a complaint about the department makeup, Lazar added: "Obviously, when it comes down to the actual hiring process, those individuals who score highest, regardless of sex or color, are the ones we hire."

Costa Mesa officers are hired through the city's personnel department.

"I'm black, and I'm the personnel manager," said Howard Perkins, "and we have two recruiters who are Japanese, so this is not an area that we take lightly."

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