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Burbank Disputes Report of Segregation : Minorities: Police, fire department chiefs say ACLU statistics are outdated and discount recent efforts to diversify.

October 31, 1994|VIVIEN LOU CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — Women and minorities in Burbank's police and fire departments are without question overwhelmingly outnumbered by white males.

But whether this should be called segregation is open for debate.

A recently completed report by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that Burbank, as well as three other cities, have the "most segregated" police and firefighting forces in Southern California.

Those findings, however, are being hotly contested by the heads of Burbank's police and fire departments, who say that some of the statistics used by the ACLU are outdated and belie efforts in recent years to diversify their ranks.

"I think the term segregated is ludicrous," Police Chief Dave Newsham said. "If you look in the dictionary under 'segregation,' it is a conscious effort to separate. We certainly don't do anything in anyone's wildest dreams that can be called segregation.

"The Burbank Police Department is a good place to work," Newsham said. "Some people stay 40 years. Are they (the ACLU) advocating we fire someone to maintain an artificial balance?"

The Burbank Police Department currently has only 10 sworn women officers in its 155-officer force. The department is 16% minority.

The ACLU report singled out the Burbank Police Department, saying it "is believed to be the only law enforcement agency in the region with 100 or more officers that totally excludes Asian-Pacific Islanders, who account for 5.7% of Burbank's population."

But, Newsham said, that statement in now inaccurate. There are currently three Asian officers on the force.

The city's Fire Department is 100% male. The 130-man force includes 14 minorities. Six of the minority firefighters are new recruits who completed training in September, information that was not included in the ACLU report.

While noting that the Fire Department has recently increased minority hiring, the report found "this supposedly diverse recruiting program included no women, no Asian-Pacific Islanders and only one African American."

The ACLU began to gather statistics on gender and race last May from 187 Southland police and firefighting forces. Many of the departments were hesitant to release numbers, said ACLU spokesman Allan Parachini.

The civil rights group compared the numbers they collected to 1990 census figures and determined that gender, racial and ethnic balance in many departments did not adequately reflect community demographics. Compton, San Gabriel and Indio were singled out as the worst diversity offenders.

Newsham and Burbank Fire Chief Michael Davis say it will take years before they are able to bring more women into their departments and to catch up with Burbank's changing racial and ethnic makeup.

But the ACLU's Parachini argued that even recent gains do not go far enough. Segregation can occur subtly, he said, and police and fire chiefs throughout Southern California have had plenty of time to improve hiring practices.

"These are changes that have been occurring 10, 15, 20 years," said Parachini, who oversaw the study. "It's not like the police and fire departments woke up yesterday and were confronted with huge increases in Asians and Latinos."

Officials said they are making strides in recruiting more women and minorities by posting job openings in minority publications and by sending representatives to job fairs in neighborhoods with heavily minority populations, such as Inglewood, Compton, Carson and East Los Angeles.

"The words and terms (the ACLU) used were inflammatory," said Lt. Chris Welker, the Burbank Police Department's highest-ranking woman. "I'm not sure what their hidden agenda was.

"What I resent them doing is saying everything we're doing is--across the board--wrong," Welker said. "I can't make a woman jump into this career."

The Police Department has formed a Cultural Awareness Committee to train officers on diversity issues. In hopes of hiring women recruits, the Fire Department recently spent $1,400 on a specially designed ladder that is easier for women to carry.

The head of the Burbank Human Relations Council, Marsha Ramos, praised the Police Department's recent efforts to meet face-to-face with a wide range of residents. But she declined to comment on the ACLU's findings until she could review them herself.

ACLU Finds Segregation

A recently released study by American Civil Liberties Union concludes that Burbank's police and fire departments are one of the most segregated forces in Los Angeles County. The departments' chiefs contend that figures used by the ACLU are not up to date.

Burbank Police Department

Male Female White Latino Black Asian Department Figures 94% 6% 83.9% 9% 3.2% 1.9% ACLU Figures 94% 6% 87.3% 8.6% 2.6% 0

Native American Department Figures 1.9% ACLU Figures

*

Burbank Fire Department

Male Female White Latino Black Asian Department Figures 100% 0 89.2% 8.4% 0.7% 1.5% ACLU figures 100% 0 92.1% 6.1% 0 1.8%

1990 Census Figures for Burbank: Male: 50% Female: 50%

White: 60.4% Latino: 30.8% Black: 2.7% Asian: 5.7% Sources: ACLU, Burbank Police Department, Burbank Management Services Department.

Note: Numbers may not add to 100% because of rounding and because "other" category is not shown.

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