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More Women in the Ranks Would Stem LAPD Brutality

October 02, 2000|ZEV YAROSLAVSKY and KATHERINE SPILLAR | Zev Yaroslavsky is an L.A. County supervisor. Katherine Spillar is national coordinator of the Feminist Majority Foundation

The city of Los Angeles has an opportunity to fundamentally change the culture of the LAPD from one that allowed the Rampart scandal to fester to one in which such behavior is largely unheard of. The consent decree between the LAPD and the Justice Department, now in its final stages of negotiation, should require the hiring of more women police officers.

More women officers?

Certainly, men and women officers have shown themselves to be equally qualified and dedicated members of the LAPD. Yet empirical research and real-life experience show that many women officers rely less on physical force and more on verbal skills in handling altercations than do the males. As a result, women officers are less likely to be involved in excessive-force incidents.

Now, a study by the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Center for Women & Policing documents the huge gender gap in the cost of police brutality and misconduct as a result of civil liability lawsuits against the LAPD: Male officers are involved in excessive-force and misconduct lawsuits at rates disproportionately higher than their female counterparts.

Los Angeles paid out $63.4 million between 1990-1999 in lawsuits accusing male officers of excessive force, sexual assault and domestic violence. By contrast, only $2.8 million was paid out on female officers for excessive-force lawsuits--and not one female officer was named as a defendant in a sexual assault or domestic violence case.

The dollar value of payouts in cases of excessive force and misconduct involving male LAPD officers exceeded that of payouts involving female officers by a ratio of 23 to 1. And male officers made up an even higher proportion of miscreants in lawsuit payouts involving killings (43 to 1) and assault and battery (32 to 1). Over the same period, male officers serving in a patrol capacity outnumbered women officers on patrol by a much lower ratio of only 4 to 1. In short, a police force with substantial numbers of women officers is likely to save the city big bucks.

We know that women do the job of policing equally as well as men, responding to similar calls and encountering similar dangers. Earlier this month, two of the 10 LAPD officers awarded the Medal of Valor were women--exactly the ratio their numbers would predict.

The numbers of women in law enforcement have been kept low by widespread discriminatory hiring and selection practices. And once hired, women are often pushed out by discrimination on the job.

More than nine years ago, the Christopher Commission recommended hiring more women to reduce police brutality. And twice the City Council has voted unanimously, directing the LAPD to gender balance its academy classes. Unfortunately, the LAPD has failed to vigorously pursue this directive. The consequences have now come home to roost.

It's not too late. The city can turn this situation around by including two key provisions in the consent decree being finalized:

* Enforce goals within the LAPD to reach gender balance as soon as possible, until the entire force is representative of the city's general paid labor market, where women now make up half the workers.

* Address the issue of domestic violence among police officers. A 1997 LAPD inspector general's report found that officers who were involved in very severe incidents of domestic violence against their wives and girlfriends were often not adequately disciplined, frequently not referred for prosecution and often promoted with the apparent knowledge and support of LAPD management.

In light of this history, the consent decree should include a provision for outside oversight of the LAPD's handling of officers accused of domestic violence. It is intolerable for the law enforcement agency charged with policing domestic violence in our community to have such a spotty record of policing domestic violence among its own.

Achieving a critical mass of women will change the LAPD's culture, not only because of the skills women bring to the job but because women also bring out the best in their male colleagues.

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