Responding to wide gender disparities in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, policymakers on Tuesday, Nov. 2, are poised to push for revised standards that would enable more women to join the force.
The motion comes amid a county department hiring freeze prompted by the pandemic. But officials want to be able to nudge the department toward a culture that is more conducive to hiring and retaining women.
At particular issue is the statewide Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements on physical agility, which L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis say are in need of revision.
In their report ahead of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Kuehl and Solis noted that the requirements “do not test for skills such as critical thinking, an area that could bolster relevance and modernize an outdated framework.”
In July, the Los Angeles County Initiative on Women and Girls recommended several measures to county officials on how to increase the number of women in the department.
They focused on POST, which was created by state law to set forth standards that local agencies can adhere to.
Among those recommendations was that the board could lead efforts to reform POST standards that “hinder increased diversity, including, but not limited to, replacing the outdated physical and written standards with those related to the actual demands placed on officers when performing their duties. Advocate for assessing applicants’ problem solving, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and communication skills….”
As of July 2019, the department reported that it had employed 1,779 female sworn personnel and 8,026 sworn personnel, about 18% of the workforce and better than many departments. But it was far short of the representation of women in general in the county — 50%. The disparities were the result of decades an internal department culture that discouraged women from the department, according to researchers at Justice & Securities Strategies, Inc., who conducted the July analysis for the county.
For instance, researchers found that in training academy female cadets have a higher sense that they must expend more effort than male cadets to be successful, and that they have fewer friends to talk to about training issues.
Non-white women who were cadets also experience higher levels of work/family conflict, the research said.
The focus of the training also promotes instruction that focuses on preparing cadets “for the most extreme circumstances that they may face as deputies which are dangerous, but which are are, according to the survey.
“This may distort cadets’ understanding of other aspects of working as a deputy that are more common,” and “may impact cadets’ perceptions of the career,” according to researchers.
Ultimately, experts said the experience contributes to shortfalls in recruitment numbers: In one training cohort between 2017 and 2019, researchers found that 29.5% or 69 female cadets left the academy without completing the training. In contrast, 18.2% or 178 male cadets left the academy.
County policymakers also see more gender parity as an advantage when it comes to actual policing in the community. There is evidence going back decades, according to researchers, that female officers use less force than their rmale counterparts, and resort to less extreme forms of violence in potentially tense situations.
This “will likely enhance relationships with communities,” Solis and Kuehl note in their agenda report.
In a response to the report back in July, Sheriff Alex Villaneuva, who was elected on a reform platform, acknowledged the need for more women in the department and their advancement. But he also noted that recruitment “has never been this high.”
“The Sheriff and the entire Department remain committed to the advancement of women, minorities, and those underrepresented employee members. Our Department makes great strides and efforts to be as diverse as the communities it serves,” wrote Villanueva and Capt. John M. McBride, of the department’s Personnel Administration Bureau, in their response to the research.
Officials said they’ve raised their goal to 20%, up from 18%. They noted that from January through June of 2019, 17.63% of trainees were women and that for the same period in 2020, the rate increased to nearly 26%.
If the supervisors approve the motion from Solis and Kuehl, and the county could then recommend legislative or regulatory changes to standards.
The Board meeting is at 9:30 a.m. You can catch it here: http://bos.lacounty.gov/Board-Meeting/Live-Broadcast.
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