Stan Embry, a tall, rangy African American, was a rookie cop on patrol in West Los Angeles when his white superior gave him a basic course in crime fighting and racism, LAPD-style.
"Any time you see blacks running around West L. A., that's a traffic stop," he was told.
Embry, more willing to speak up than most probationers, chastised his training officer for assuming all blacks were potential criminals. "That's wrong," he said.
"I know bad guys," his superior snapped.
Seventeen years later, Embry had become a lieutenant in charge of vice operations in the San Fernando Valley, and is on a career trajectory carrying him into the upper ranks of LAPD management. He proved his mettle in the Northridge earthquake, rallying cops with a hand-held radio from a command post set up on a street corner while transformers exploded overhead.
His former training officer, never promoted, is still on patrol.
Embry is a success story in a department that is struggling to rebuild itself from the ground level, to shed its image as a frat house for blue-eyed men with crew cuts.
Of all the mandates for change clamoring for attention within the LAPD, the drive to broaden the ethnic and gender makeup of the force may be the most imperative. The lack of diversity has been tabbed by department critics for everything from the Rodney G. King beating to the harassment of minority communities.
Proof of how indelible the image has become is the defense gamble in the O.J. Simpson case that the jury will believe LAPD investigators are capable of planting evidence and forming a massive, racist conspiracy to cover it up, something that would have seemed ludicrous only a few years ago.
Surprisingly, considering its public image, the white male is a minority on the force at 46.1%. The number of black officers is less than a percentage point under the 15% hiring goal set by the city. Latino officers now make up 25.9% of the force, less than five points from the target.
The changes are apparent in the roll-call room in Van Nuys, where the ranks of probationers who sit solemnly in the front rows swell with female and minority recruits. The division's youngest training officer, Alan Hamilton, is black.
"There have been changes, moves in the right direction," says Embry, who recently was promoted Downtown. "We've got police officers I don't think much of. But there are far more outstanding officers out there."
So how far along is the LAPD in its rebuilding process? "Farther along than the community perceives it to be. And the national media," says former Police Commissioner Gary Greenebaum. "It's starting to look like the city."
That doesn't mean bias is as outmoded as the chokehold. When a white cop hears one day that his partner's son is entering a karate tournament in mostly black Lake View Terrace, he makes a joke that evokes the most vicious passages of the Christopher Commission report on LAPD racism.
"He's going to be fighting a lot of \o7 hoo-hoo-hoos\f7 ," the man says, scratching under his arms like an ape, recalling the infamous "gorillas in the mist" radio transmission that became a worldwide example of LAPD intolerance.
And while hiring goals for minorities are within reach, the target of making the department 43% female will not be achieved, at the present rate of growth, until 2022. Activists are angry.
"It's bunk that there aren't women clamoring for these jobs," said Katherine Spillar, national coordinator of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a former co-chairwoman of the Police Commission's Women's Advisory Council. "The department is deliberately not recruiting them. We had to force them to stop looking at Marine bases and go to child-care centers."
In Los Angeles, where officers proportionately kill or wound more civilians than any of the nation's other five largest cities, according to a 1991 study, the failure to bolster the ranks of female officers is costing taxpayers millions, says Spillar. "Women de-escalate situations," she said. "When you look at the payouts on excessive use of force, there are no payouts on women."
Further, though the lower ranks have become more diverse, the command structure remains mostly male and white. Of the 94 officers at the rank of captain and above in 1994, 73 were white, which is actually an improvement over the situation five years ago, when 81 of 93 were white.
Statistically speaking, the LAPD is about halfway through its metamorphosis. That doesn't mean the pressure on the department has eased. In some ways, it has increased. Now, it is being tugged in opposite directions by those who feel the department is still resisting change, and those who think it has sacrificed public safety for political correctness.
"As a white male, I am worthless," says Dan Drulias, 28, a patrol cop who won a coveted Medal of Valor several years ago for crawling into a burning building to rescue people trapped inside.