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Topics / DEMOGRAPHICS : Fire, Police Departments Don't Reflect Ethnic Mix, Study Says

November 17, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When it comes to diversity among police officers and firefighters, a new American Civil Liberties Union study finds that the San Gabriel Valley is decidedly lacking.

More public safety departments in the valley than in any other region of Southern California fail to reflect the race and gender of their communities, remaining largely white male domains, according to the study of agencies in eight counties.

Although the valley's biggest city, Pasadena, was rated at the top for diversity, the report released in late October rated eight local agencies as among Southern California's "most segregated" by gender and ethnicity. Several of those departments have no women and few, if any, employees of Asian descent.

"The San Gabriel Valley is simply the worst place for this problem," said Allan Parachini, ACLU director of public affairs, who oversaw the survey.

City officials downplayed the significance of the study, saying that progress is being made but because of low turnover and tight budgets they have had little opportunity to hire at all. They also faulted the report for paying no attention to recent efforts to hire minorities and complained that the study used the terms segregated and integrated as though minorities and women were kept separate from others in the departments.

ACLU officials countered that the departments have not made enough of an effort to keep up with changing times.

The city of San Gabriel was one of four cities in Southern California and the only one in the San Gabriel Valley to have both its Police Department and Fire Department appear on the ACLU's "most severely segregated" list.

The Alhambra, Covina and Irwindale police departments made the list of the 20 "most segregated" law enforcement agencies, and Monterey Park, San Marino and West Covina fire departments were among the 15 most segregated fire departments.

Monterey Park, which is 57.5% Asian/Pacific Islander, has no Asian or Pacific Islander firefighters. Nor does San Gabriel, which is 38% Asian/Pacific Islander. The 72-member West Covina Fire Department has no women or people of Asian descent in a city in which 50% of residents are female and 17.2% Asian/Pacific Islander.

Irwindale made the list because its Police Department has no female, African American or Asian American officers. However, the city is only 0.1% Asian and 2.3% black. A majority of its Police Department is Latino, the figures show, as is the city.

Of the 31 public safety departments in the valley, nine do not have any African Americans and nine are without a single Asian American. Seven of the valley's 12 fire departments do not have a female firefighter.

By contrast, Pasadena's Fire Department and Police Department were rated the "best integrated."

"With the passage of time, Pasadena has developed a uniquely successful minority and female recruiting program that appears to have no equal in the region," the report said.

Since a 1983 legal settlement, the city has been required to meet minority hiring levels in those departments. "We have made a concerted effort to support diversity," Councilman Rick Cole said.

The ACLU, which surveyed 107 police departments and 80 fire departments in eight counties and compared the figures to the 1990 U.S. Census, ranked departments on how closely their composition reflected that of their communities. ACLU officials said they have asked federal agencies "to investigate race and gender segregation" among departments in general and called for local politicians to hold top commanders accountable for improving the situation.

But local officials said many of the white males whose numbers dominate several departments were hired when the communities resembled them. "Obviously, you can't just get rid of employees," said David Lawton, chief of the San Gabriel Police Department, which has seen its Asian American community grow to around a third of the population in the last decade.

Police and fire chiefs across the region say the problem is exacerbated by declining budgets as cities see their revenues trimmed by the recession and state government. That has put hiring at a minimum.

Lawton said the ACLU study does not show the progress that has been made because it never asked about recent efforts.

"I've personally stood outside a department store used by Asian Americans handing out recruitment leaflets," Lawton said, adding that in the past year the department has gone from zero Asian American officers to four, plus a reserve.

"Eight of the last 10 police officers hired by the Police Department were minorities," said Julio J. Fuentes, Alhambra city manager. "To call it a segregated department is simply not fair. It makes it sound like we are doing it intentionally."

Monterey Park Mayor Judy Chu said too many recruiters for local public safety agencies believe the stereotype about people of Asian descent not wanting those positions and so do not aggressively recruit them.

Diversity in Safety Agencies

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