LOS ANGELES — In 2018, 51-year-old grandmother Elaine Brumley hopes to enter the Los Angeles Police Department’s Training Academy, along with recruits in her age group and others more than 30 years her junior.
If she makes it through to graduation, Brumley will be one of the oldest rookies patrolling the streets of L.A.
To get ready for the Academy’s spring class, Brumley, a Long Beach resident, says “I double-down to exercise two hours a day, after caring for my elderly parents and my 6-month-old grandson.”
“I am balancing God, family, and self to meet LAPD requirements. I want to show people who have a schedule like mine that they can still make it through the process.”
“Becoming LAPD,” as Brumley calls it, is a testament to her grit and determination. Her quest also comes on the cusp of a huge demographic change in the department and as efforts mount to reform the LAPD internally and externally in relation to use of force policies, especially, in black and brown communities.
Since Brumley started the application process in early 2016, the percentage of African Americans on the force has dropped from 10.4 percent to 10.1 percent, according to LAPD Recruitment and Employment Division Capt. Alan Hamilton.
“The average age of an African American LAPD officer is 46,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got 23 year old making $100,000 a year with benefits and overtime and they can retire at age 50, but the target applicant pool of African Americans, 20 years of age and up, is getting smaller,” he said.
“The youth are being influenced by their peers, elders, parents, relatives and the community to not pursue a career with the LAPD. If that continues to happen, how are we ever going to hire African American police officers?”
In conversations with a reporter, Hamilton did not voice the word “crisis” in relation to the shrinking African-American applicant pool, but he strongly emphasized the profoundly negative consequences of the change, in combination with retirements, normal attrition and attitudes.
He suggested that the shrinking pool of African-American candidates will affect neighborhood policing, resulting in the absence of sworn officers from those communities.
“We’re never going to see officers that are African American in the community, because we’re not going to hire them if they don’t apply,” Hamilton said.
Brumley understands the paradox. “A lot of people don’t respect LAPD [because] it’s unfriendly, officers automatically put up their guard.” She wants to “change how the public sees LAPD officers. I can change how they interact with the public. It starts with me.”
Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson points to “dubious police shootings and excessive physical and deadly force — almost always unpunished — as having been the biggest cause of tension, mistrust, hostility and disrespect of the police in minority communities.”
“That in turn has had a seismic bad effect on effective, harmonious and lasting police-community relations,” he said.
“Some African Americans are applying,” Hamilton said. “We just graduated two women, identical twins, from the Academy. They’re now in the field, doing great, but in the next five years, the number of African American sworn officers is really going to go down as a result of the hiring push we had 30 years ago. Those officers are coming up on the end of their careers and they’re leaving.”
Last month, Brumley received her conditional letter of employment as a police officer for the LAPD, but she has “three conditions to meet in 120 days to still be in the hiring process,” including the enormous pressure of “losing 53 more pounds.”
“My [original] goal was [to lose] 100 pounds,” she said. “I’ve already lost 50. The fire is turned all the way up now. ‘Is it easy? No,’ but it can be done.”
LAPD is no longer the predominantly white institution it was once upon a time. In addition to the roughly 10 percent African American officers, in 2016, nearly half — 46 percent — of its sworn officers were Hispanic men and women.
Hamilton said the department has stepped up efforts to engage in the community “with eight recruitment officers at the recent Taste of Soul” event in South L.A.
We are absolutely pushing to hire from the African-American community and are looking to hire 600 new police officers this fiscal year through job fairs, social media, military and college recruitment.
Brumley’s application to join the LAPD is timely and may well be auspicious as older workers bring potential benefits accruing from maturity and experience.
“Currently the average candidate is 26 years of age,” Hamilton said.
As L.A.’s younger African-American population turns its back on the LAPD, as Hamilton’s statistics suggest, will Brumley’s quest to “become LAPD” be a bellwether of the future, a dwindling number of African-American officers, but more black women and older, more experienced applicants?
In reality, Brumley faces staggering odds of getting into the Academy on her first try — further delaying any chance for her to work toward changing the department and community relations.
Brumley said, “I am not gonna quit until I nail it. Every door has been opened because I haven’t given up. I visualize everything: me passing the physical fitness qualifier; me in my police uniform graduation day; me passing my one-year probationary period. I just keep on keeping on. My dream still lives.”