Top brass women in law enforcement came together for a live, virtual USC panel discussion to reflect on former Officer Fanchon Blake’s landmark legal case – the topic of the book Busting the Brass Ceiling: How a Heroic Female Cop Changed the Face of Policing.
The book details female LAPD Officer Fanchon Blake’s efforts to fight against discrimination in law enforcement, focusing on her Supreme Court victory that enabled female officers and minorities to be promoted past the ranking of sergeant, and modified various requirements for joining the force.
Blake, who died at 93, joined the LAPD back in 1948.
According to The Los Angeles Times, when the ruling from her lawsuit went into effect in 1981 there were about 175 women on the force. By 2010, there were nearly 2,000, and many of the officers held high ranks. The ruling effectively changed the culture of the LAPD and is considered a landmark case for gender equality in law enforcement.
A panel of highly respected women in law enforcement came together to discuss that case, Blake’s achievements and where women in law enforcement stand today, including the first Latina USC Assistant Police Chief Alma Burke, LAPD’s first female Deputy Chief Peggy York, commander Ruby Flores and retired LAPD Captain Ann Young.
Burke, who grew up in Santa Ana as a first-generation Angeleno and attended grad school at USC, is especially proud of women in law enforcement and her own achievements. She knew from early on that being a woman was not going to stop her from achieving her goals.
“My parents would have been happy if I had just graduated from high school,” she said. “For my dad, it was more like, ‘What are you going to do with that college degree?’ I think once I made it to college, my dad realized I was moving ahead. He became more supportive. I think, culturally, they want women to just get married and have children. I told them early on: That’s not what I’m going to do.”
Burke, who served in the LAPD for 24 years and obtained the rank of sergeant before moving to USC, investigated violent narcotic offenders and worked undercover in vice and prostitution. She also investigated sexual assaults in the special victims unit as a detective, as well as homicides in South L.A.
“All those jobs built me,” she said. “I learned how to talk to people when I worked vice. You learn what they want and why they want it. I remember when I started to learn about human trafficking, running into 12- and 13-year-olds and realizing this wasn’t just about prostitution. This was about saving lives. Even when I had to interview serial killers, I was peeling back the layers, understanding why they did what they did.”
Now, Burke heads the largest female law enforcement organization in California, Los Angeles Women Police Officers and Associates (LAWPOA), which is devoted to helping officers of all genders reach their potential and deal with the trauma they may encounter.
No doubt Blake would have been proud of the women like Burke who are following in her footsteps.
The online panel discussion was held on May 15, sponsored by the USC Department of Public Safety, the USC Safe Communities Institute, the LAPD Museum and the Los Angeles Women Police Officers & Associates (LAWPOA).