Civil Rights Testimony of Chief Penny Harrington

Director of the National Center on Women & Policing


September 12, 1996
United States Commission on Civil Rights public hearing panel on
"Racial and Ethnic Tensions in American Communities: Poverty, Inequality and Discrimination in Los Angeles, California"

Presented on a panel entitled, "Racial and Gender Bias in the Los Angeles Police Department."

I am honored to be here today to speak to you about Gender Bias in the Los Angeles Police Department. The issues of Gender Bias have been documented and presented to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Commission over a period of several years.

In 1991, the Christopher Commission documented a serious disparity between the Los Angeles Police Department's official policy of full equality for women and its actual practices. It found that anti-female attitudes were pervasive and concluded that women officers and staff face serious problems coping in a Department culture of widespread and strongly felt gender bias.

In September of 1992, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously adopted a proposal to gender balance the Los Angeles Police Department. A hiring goal of 43.4% women police was established.

I am submitting a report written by the Women's Advisory Council to the Los Angeles Police Commission in October, 1993, entitled "A Blueprint for Implementing Gender Equity in the Los Angeles Police Department." This report presents 180 recommendations made to the Los Angeles Police Department in the areas of recruiting, hiring, assignment, training, promotion, sexual harassment and the police response to domestic violence.

Despite the continued pressure brought to bear on the Los Angeles Police Department over the last several years, little progress has been made in implementing the Christopher Commission Reforms, the Women's Advisory Council recommendations or the gender balance mandate from the City Council.

Despite the hiring goal of 43.4%, the Los Angeles Police Department seldom hires more than 20% women in each academy class. The failure rate for women in the Police Academy is much higher than it is for white men. There are still no women at the highest command levels of the LAPD. And, the attitude that women do not belong in policing is still prevalent in all aspects of the LAPD.

Women are still not given the same opportunities for career development as men. For example, in the Metropolitan Division, a highly desired assignment, there are only 9 women out of 233 positions - less than 4%, in the Air Support Division, there are only 3 women of out 80 positions - less than 4%; and in Robbery-Homicide Division, there are only 6 women out of 78 positions - less than 8%.

The July 30, 1996 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported that former Detective Mark Fuhrman would receive a reprimand for disparaging the abilities of female police officers. Fuhrman participated actively in creating a hostile work environment during his time at the West Los Angeles Police station were he allegedly was a member of a group know as Men Against Women. The Los Angeles Police Department may not legally be able to impose more than a reprimand on Mr. Fuhrman for his activities in disparaging women officers and creating a hostile work environment. However, the LAPD can and must take action against the daily disparaging of women officers that occurs in nearly every precinct and division in the Police Department.

THERE IS NO COMMITMENT FROM THE TOP LEVEL OF THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT TO ELIMINATE SEXISM IN THE ORGANIZATION. LITTLE MORE THAN LIP SERVICE IS PAID TO DEALING WITH THE ISSUES.

For example, Chief Williams reports to the Police Commission about the Department's progress on Gender Balance. In a report dated June 11, 1996, which I am providing to you, the following statements are made:

The Chief's response to this goal is a listing of the numbers of women promoted and the numbers of women who were advanced in pay grades. The Chief has never reported on how the LAPD screens candidates for promotion and assignment on their ability to work with and accept female police officers. We can only assume that it is still not being done. In fact, on many occasions we have been informed that men who have been found to have violated policies on sexual harassment have been promoted - the most notable example being Mark Fuhrman.

Even though lip service is paid to making the work environment non-hostile to women, it is clear that nothing of substance is being done beyond some in-house training.

As Director of the National Center for Women and Policing, I frequently receive confidential telephone calls from women in the Los Angeles Police Department. They call to talk about serious instances of gender discrimination and harassment. Many of them are suffering from physical and emotional illnesses because of the stress in their jobs - stress caused by their male co-workers and supervisors. We provide moral support and advise them to seek counseling. We also urge them to file formal complaints or contact an attorney to take action against the Department. Most of these women tell us that they are afraid to take any action because they know that they will suffer severe retaliation and that their careers will be ended if they complain.

In addition to the obvious hostile working environment for women in law enforcement, and I want to point out that civilian women employees are subjected to as much and sometimes more harassment than the sworn officers, we are also concerned about the attitude that officers who denigrate their co-workers display to women in the community - especially women who are victims of domestic violence.

We also want to call to your attention that domestic violence in police families appears to occur at a higher rate than in the general population. Some estimates are that as many as 40% of police families experience domestic violence. Where do those families turn for help when their batterer is a police officer? And, what service will be provided to a woman who is a victim of domestic violence when her call for help is answered by an officer who is a batterer?

All of these issues are related:

The women who serve at the Los Angeles Police Department and with law enforcement agencies across the nation have nowhere to turn for help. You can help make a difference. We ask that you take the following actions:


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Copyright 1997, The Feminist Majority Foundation and New Media Publishing Inc.