For 30 years the LAPD has been trying to achieve the elusive goal of 20% women in its sworn officer ranks.
Back then, the force was less than 2 percent female; many considered it a fairly hostile workplace environment for women. After a series of lawsuits the LAPD agreed to start actively recruiting women and set the 20% goal.
Rcently, the department's gotten close—painfully close—without hitting the mark. As of Tuesday, Deputy Chief Debra McCarthy reported to the L.A. Police Commission that 19.2% of sworn personnel are female, meaning the department has now hovered close to 19% for years without reaching its goal.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck pointed out that nationally, the average is more in the 12-15% range, and departments with a higher ratio of women tend to play a heavy custody role, like sheriff's departments.
Why can't LAPD get to 20%? McCarthy said that issue clearly needs more study, but the department has identified some trends.
"Historically, they fail out of the academy in physical fitness," McCarthy said. So the department started adjusting its training to better prepare women for the fitness exam.
"Now," McCarthy said, "it's personal." Particularly with Latina recruits, the LAPD is finding that women leave the academy because family members, whether parents or spouses, don't approve of their career choice.
"We need to do a better job of getting families on board earlier in the process," McCarthy said.
The department also grapples with a glass ceiling for minority officers. McCarthy said leadership increasingly focuses upon making sure minority officers have equal access to training and promotional opportunities. That, in turn, makes the profession more attractive to a varied applicant pool.
"This is our foundation," McCarthy said. "Now it's about, what can we do to prepare our young generation? And what worked for me might not work for 30-year-olds today."