Testimony of Katherine Spillar
National Coordinator, The Fund for the Feminist Majority

Before the Los Angeles Police Commission
September 24, 1991

My name is Katherine Spillar. I testify today in my capacity as the National Coordinator of The Fund for the Feminist Majority. The Feminist Majority is a national organization specializing in research on the impacts of, and public policy responses to, the under-representation of women in decision-making positions and positions of authority in all sectors of society.

Since the Rodney King beating, the Feminist Majority has conducted extensive research on the relationship of gender to excessive use of force within policing and presented testimony during the public hearings and executive sessions of the Christopher Commission's investigation.

We have also been working closely with the California Women's Law Center in an effort to bring our findings and policy proposals before the City Council. This morning, Councilmembers Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a series of proposed reforms to the City Council calling for gender balance of the Los Angeles Police Department to curb police violence and increase responsiveness of the LAPD to the rising violence against women. Police Commissioner Ann Reiss Lane joined this morning's announcement. I am here this afternoon, along with Jenifer McKenna of the California Women's Law Center to urge the Police commission to fully support these proposals. And, we are here to offer any assistance we can provide to the police Commission in developing expanded recruitment programs for women officers and implementing other policy and program changes necessary to achieve the goals embodied in the reform proposals.

Research both nationally and internationally -- substantiated by the Christopher Commission's extensive review of the LAPD -- shows that women police officers are involved "in excessive use of force at rates substantially below those of male officers." . Women police officers are not as authoritarian, use force less often, possess better communication skills, and are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations than their male counterparts.

If the problems of excessive force within the Department are to be seriously addressed, the LAPD must find ways of significantly and rapidly increasing the numbers of women officers on the police force.

The gross absence of women on the police force not only contributes to the problems of police violence, but results in violence against women being treated less seriously. Violence against women is now a nationwide epidemic, yet the majority of these violent crimes go unreported, un-investigated, and unpunished.

The lack of women officers results in women victims of rape and domestic violence being afraid to call the police for fear they won't be taken seriously or, worse yet, they will receive further harassment from male officers.

Extensive research over the past twenty years indicates that women officers are more convinced of the importance of responding to family fights as a crucial police duty. Additionally, women police officers believe more strongly in the need to show sympathy and understanding to the survivor of violence in order to successfully handle the dispute. Studies indicate that battered women who have had contact with women police have a more favorable impression of the police than those who only dealt with male officers.

Gender balance at all ranks and in all categories of police functions would reduce police violence -- while at the same time increase the efficiency of the LAPD -- and enhance the Department's ability to respond to the rising violence against women.

The Christopher Commission also found pervasive and deep-rooted sex-discrimination and sexual harassment within the LAPD. The report concluded this discrimination aggravates the excessive force problems within the LAPD by creating a disdain for women's less violent approach to policing and by discouraging and preventing women from achieving equal numbers and reaching the highest ranks within the Department.

If the problem of sex discrimination and sexual harassment within the LAPD is to be curtailed, change must begin with the recruitment and training processes of the LAPD.

Together with Councilmembers Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas and the California Women's Law Center, we are urging an expansion. of the recruitment efforts for women police officers and the establishment of a new, voluntary goal of gender balance for female police officers, equal to the percentage of women in the Los Angeles workforce (approximately 45% in 1990) we are also calling for revised training policies: Gender bias and sex discrimination awareness training must be incorporated into the LAPD's training program, in addition to a greater emphasis on police response to domestic violence and violence against women.

Furthermore, new recruits should be screened for gender bias and attitudes toward violence against woment as well as officers up for promotions or assignments to coveted positions. Gender bias and discriminatory behavior should be classified as misconduct and treated seriously within the Department's disciplinary system.

We are also urging that as the City begins the search for a new Chief of Police, the focus be on recruiting individuals who are firmly committed to achieving gender balance and eliminating sex and race discrimination within the LAPD.

Finally, we are urging that the Police Commission designate responsibility for achieving gender balance and gender eqaality in the Department I to the Chief of Police directly, with oversight provided by the Commission, and that one of the employees on the Commission' s expanded staff be. assigned the day-to-day responsibility for working with the Chief of Police in this regard.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify before the Police Commission. Both the Feminist Majority and the California Women's Law Center stand ready to provide assistance and expertise to the Commission in carrying forward the reforms that have been proposed.

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Copyright 1997, The Feminist Majority Foundation