LOS ANGELES — Sgt. Kristine Kenney, a 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, says there is a "good 'ol boy" network in the LAPD that will be hard to crack.
Early in her career, she would put up with male jokes about being flat-chested by simply returning verbal fire. But she recently testified against a commander for using the word "babe" in an elevator. Since then, she says she has become a pariah.
"They all call me 'liar' now," she says, noting that the distrust has spilled into daily duties. When she recently responded to an emergency call for backup, she says the officers asked if they could wait longer until all-male help arrived.
Her complaints point up how difficult it often is for women to be accepted in what has been a male-dominated profession, according to women inside and outside the department. "There is a Catch 22 that if you complain, you are ostracized to the point of life endangerment," says Connie Fletcher, an author who has interviewed 110 women officers across the US. "If you are disliked, you are not offered protection and backup from your male superiors - and that has driven many to quit."
Chief Darrell Sanders, president of the International Chiefs of Police in Alexandria, Va., notes that "any problems we're confronting in our society, you'll find in police departments as well."
He adds that it's important to have women in roles of leadership in police departments, because "they need to be heard. As a male, I certainly can't identify with the problems that females confront."
One woman LAPD officer, who requested anonymity, says she has been repeatedly harassed since filing a personnel complaint in 1995. Several male officers, she contended in formal proceedings at the time, were drinking on the job, frequented nude bars, and regularly issued radio dispatches saying they were at crime scenes when they were not. For months afterwards, the officer had her patrol tires flattened while in front of the precinct office, four-letter words etched into her car paint, and locker - and months of hangup calls at her home.
When a sympathetic male officer spoke up in her behalf, the duo was accused of having a sexual liaison and the male officer was transferred. Since that incident, she has been assigned to another division, but says she feels marked. "It is routine for male officers who show up on one of my calls to take over and tell me to go 'cover the rear,' "she says.