It’s 1980 and timing is everything. Cheryl Dorsey’s daily grind of typing reports for on-going investigations in the secretarial pool at the Department of Justice was interrupted by an offer, in which she would take part in an undercover narcotics “sting operation” as a decoy.
Her interest aroused, coupled with the final passage of the Frachon Blake Consent Decree initiated in 1973, the single mother decided to shift careers and apply for a more lucrative job with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The move was motivated by the courts to recruit minorities and women for a more equitable law enforcement entity. Transitioning through the police academy into a rookie officer on the streets of her native South Central LA, she begin her journey from (comparatively) naive novice to seasoned veteran with insight into the workings of the LAPD, LA County and the city as a whole.
“I asserted that I was being treated poorly because 1) I was Black, and 2) I was a woman,” she said.
Naive or not, in 1980 she moved into police work with a clear vision of what she wanted.
“This is a job that’s gonna afford me the ability to do some things that are going to be important for me long term,” was her thinking at the time.
Consent Decree or not, obstacles were apparent from the start.
“There were folks (on the Academy and in the department) who didn’t look like me who didn’t think I should be there.” Dorsey said.
These included those who actively dolled out poor treatment, and those who were complacent while the behavior occurred.
Regardless of one’s occupation, California workers are mandated to receive one uninterrupted meal break per five hour shift. During her probationary period in the Southwest Division, an argument over her missed lunch with a training officer actually escalated into a physical altercation where he put her into a “pain compliance hold” commonly utilized by peace officers with uncooperative arrestees.
“He physically assaulted me, is what he did,” Dorsey said.
During the course of this melee (in which the trainer tried to take possession of her firearm) another cop (a Black man) intervened, and the offending training officer was eventually suspended without pay for five days.
Her probation ended, Dorsey moved on to Central Division for what she thought was a fresh start. The rumor mill, a staple of every work environment, caused her to receive an informal “jacket,” wherein those in the “old boy” network (friends of the training officer with whom she’d clashed) called ahead, and labeled her an untrustworthy partner whom nobody would work with.
Dorsey’s previous idealism eroded with the realization that certain coveted slots in elite units (Homicide, Special Investigation Section) were unattainable due to the glass ceiling and the “old-boy” network favoring White males.
“The LAPD let me know those positions aren’t really for people who look like me, and so I had to adjust my mindset,” she said.
A reprieve of sorts came with her admission to Central Traffic Division (CID), a position where she could work solo. Racism and sexist remarks continued, however, especially at roll call, the start of shift briefing common to municipal law enforcement.
Eventually she did get a steady partner, another woman, and they were saddled with the offensive moniker “the Tuna Clipper,” so called because they were both female officers working the black and white (squad car).
“This was a time when you didn’t complain,” said Dorsey, explaining her silence back then.
The Homie Hook Up
“If you have your chart connected to the right horse you got what I call the “homie hookup.”
Badge Bunnies are female groupies who are attracted to policemen, and aggressively seek them out, on and off duty. Alternatively referred to as beat babes, holster honeys, holster sniffers, or just pig pals (cop wives simply refer to them as whores and sluts).
Alternatively there are women who actually join the force, and use this same “pal” mindset to get a leg up the ranks for advancement.
In most hostile environments, alternative routes of upward mobility are available to those who are willing to compromise ethics and morality. In the LAPD, women were relegated to two distinct classifications, “b**ches” who didn’t embrace the status quo (the category into which Dorsey was cased) or divisional punch boards (whores). This later classification references females who chose the path of least resistance, in they could either date or marry high ranking brass and have their tickets “punched” for vertical advancement.
These liaisons played out within the department and at select off duty watering holes. For Blacks it was “Little J’s” on Olive Street near downtown, while Whites had a spot at the Police Academy Lounge near Elysian Park, and at “The Short Stop” on Sunset Boulevard. (in the notorious Rampart Division), while the Sheriffs’ frolicked at a now-forgotten enclave in Chinatown.
Those who shunned “the homie hook up” were left to fend for themselves, and left open to ritual agitation.
“It was continuous, yet intermittent,” Dorsey recalled.
As the shoddy treatment continued, Dorsey sought redress by alternate means.
Redress by Alternative Means
“I had the wherewithal to seek the counsel of some people who put me in touch with folks who made sure I got the right representation and encouragement to go after the department,” she said. “…and that’s what I did.”
In essence, Dorsey became the “me too movement” before there was one, and resorted to legal compensation.
Her lawsuit was successful (albeit with a “gag order” or non- disclosure agreement, as the department settled out of court), and Dorsey caught another break with her selection to CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) in South Bureau. Here her burden was softened by the presence of more officers of color, superiors who “had her back,” and the job actually became fun.
As the 20-year mark and the much anticipated pension closed in, Sgt. Dorsey was faced with another form of abuse, in the form of sexual harassment by her commander. Once again she sought legal recourse, and again was successful.
The Next Chapter
Retirement in 2000 brought a new incarnation as a basketball/soccer mom to her children.
“I was able to do everything with my sons that I’d not been able to because of my time as a police officer.”
Moving ahead eight or nine years, she rejoined the workforce, this time with the Los Angeles School District ( LAUSD). Her police background got her a spot as a senior investigator with that entity’s office of the inspector general.
There for eight years, she toiled in occupational bliss, as opposed to the roller coaster trajectory of the LAPD, as she became the go-to investigator for complicated issues involving criminality.
“It was the best retirement job that anyone could have,” Dorsey said.
Alas, into every life, the rain must fall. In Cheryl Dorsey’s case, years of tranquility with evaluations that, in her words, said that “…the sun shined out of my nether regions,” came to an abrupt halt with intrusion of new leadership from the federal sector.
Governmental environs thrive on paper trails manifested in the millennium staple called email, and in this Dorsey secured her lifeline, abetted by her seasoning with her previous employer.
“The LAPD taught me well,” meaning she knew the importance of documentation. This involved realms of paperwork, including 10,000 pages of emails (“That’s the LAUSD way — everything they do is via email) disclosing an orchestrated agenda to discredit Dorsey.
“My God is amazing, and he put it on my spirit to make those copies, and I did for about 15 months,” she said.
This due diligence resulted in another, winning lawsuit. Her Op Ed on this convoluted affair is at: https://tinyurl.com/2p8kwfwj.
Dorsey’s background as a system insider turned whistleblower has made her an in demand media commentator for such news organs as CNN, Fox News, HLN, News Nation Network and News Max.
“When there’s something going on, I can be in demand for several days, and then when it dies down and there’s no longer any interest, I get to going back to doing what I do, which is being me.”
Dorsey’s (mis)adventures with the innards of the county are accessible in “Black and Blue: The Creation of a Social Advocate,” available on Amazon.com.
Dorsey closed her interview with this passing advice to our incoming mayor-elect.
“Madame Mayor: Real police reform and accountability is needed. To the extent that ending qualified immunity is the only substantive change that is likely to deter police misconduct and the use of unnecessary [deadly] use of force and police abuse at the hands of errant officers.
I’d like to see the implementation of an administrative remedy/adjudication in L.A. that would remove police officers from field services (patrol) until such time as they may be terminated when warranted and DE-certified according to SB 731 (once passed).”
Cheryl Dorsey remains an avid observer of police malfeasance and law enforcement related issues across the country. For her unique perspective, visit her website at: https://sgtcheryldorsey.com/.