Look who fits LAPD profile

May 1, 2006

Recruiting challenges force department to reach far afield for officers

BY JOSH KLEINBAUM, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

Like most kids, Munish Bharadwaja played cops and robbers with friends, watched TV shows featuring police officers and thought law enforcement was just one of those cool jobs.

Then reality set in.

Bharadwaja, who was born in India and grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from high school and went to the University of California, Irvine. He considered graduate school but decided to enter the business world instead and worked for three telecommunications companies over the next decade.

He was good at it and was named CEO last year of a company that sold cell-phone accessories. But he never forgot about his childhood dream.

On Friday, Bharadwaja graduated from the LAPD’s Police Academy. And today, he will trade his suit and tie for a badge and gun when he reports for duty as a patrol officer in the Harbor Division.

“For a lot of people, change is something they don’t look forward to,” Bharadwaja said. “I decided, at 34, it was time. It was either do it now, or I’d never do it.

“I didn’t want to put off my dreams for the rest of my life.”

In an ongoing recruiting battle that is becoming more and more challenging, the LAPD is looking for people just like Bharadwaja – those willing to give up promising careers in other fields to wear the uniform.

The LAPD has the money to recruit 1,000 additional police officers, but is facing stiff competition from other agencies and the military.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many cities have increased funding for their police forces and most departments – including those in communities around Los Angeles – are hiring.

Some who would typically apply for a police job are going to the military instead, and extended service requirements because of the Iraq war have cut off a usually reliable source of recruits.

In the fiscal year of 2002-03, 9,397 people applied to be LAPD officers, and 691 were hired. In fiscal 2004-05, only 5,545 applied, and 381 were hired.

This year, not a single Police Academy class has reached its 60-person maximum. Three classes had fewer than 40 recruits. Only 25 officers graduated in Bharadwaja’s class.

“I can’t think of an agency that’s not hiring,” said LAPD Cmdr. Kenny Garner, head of the department’s Personnel Division. “Everybody’s looking for law enforcement-type people, and there’s definitely a drain on the resources to get them in.”

With the heightened competition, the LAPD is looking to increase its applicant pool by finding people like Bharadwaja.

“A lot of people are in midlife crises,” LAPD Chief William Bratton said. “They’re looking for other things, new careers. We want them to think about the LAPD.”

The initiative – aided by the fact that the LAPD lifted the age cap in 2003 to settle a discrimination lawsuit – has already had some success.

D. Michele Vrolyks was a chemist for a pharmaceutical company before joining the LAPD. Now she’s a patrol officer in Wilshire Division.

Kristina Broadhurst has a medical degree from Harvard University and an MBA from UCLA, but she’s in the LAPD’s academy for reserve officers and is considering joining the force full time once she pays off student loans.

Officer James Miller went to Faith Baptist Bible College in Iowa and served as a minister for five years in the late 1990s. Abraham Schefres, a patrol officer in the Devonshire area, is a rabbi.

“If somebody told me 20 years ago I would be in the reserve academy and loving it as much as I do, I’d have said, `You’ve got to be kidding me,”‘ said Broadhurst, who works in the medical affairs group of a pharmaceutical company. “I never thought of it in my life.”

That is, until she became friends with some full-time LAPD officers.

“My understanding of policing was at the same level of what the general public perceives policing to be,” she said. “What I found is that the LAPD provides so many ways of serving the community, and there are so many opportunities in being part of the LAPD. The people I met in the LAPD are more dynamic than the people I work with on a day-to-day basis.”

Like Bharadwaja, Miller grew up thinking about becoming a police officer. But he came from a strong Baptist family in Redding and was also drawn to theology. When it came time to go to college, he opted for Bible school.

“I loved school, studying different subjects, taking Greek, Hebrew and theology courses,” Miller said. “But then I tried it out and realized it wasn’t really my personality, it didn’t really fit. I’m more of a one-on-one type person, not a one-on-group type person.”

He left the seminary in 2000 and joined the Marines, where he learned to fly fighter jets. During the Battle of Fallujah in 2004, Miller coordinated airstrikes and medevacs from the ground for American forces.

When he was discharged from the Marines in February 2005, he immediately applied for the LAPD. He’s been a patrol officer in Newton Division for two months.

His background as a minister “helps me have a different perspective and understanding of people I’m dealing with than other police officers do,” he said. “Anything that anyone’s done in their past is going to help them as a police officer. If you’ve worked at McDonald’s, it would help you as a police officer.”

The LAPD continues to search for officers in unusual places.

In July, the department will be a sponsor at the Gay Games in Chicago and will give potential recruits the opportunity to take an entrance exam.

Sometime this summer, recruiters plan to go to Detroit to talk to workers laid off from the auto industry. The department’s layoff coordinator keeps tabs on other struggling industries that could provide a pool of potential officers.

“There’s a certain percentage of people who know that they want to be a police officer, and they’re coming to us,” Garner said. “But there are other individuals who could make good officers who don’t even know what law enforcement is. Part of our challenge is to bring the LAPD to them.”

This article was reprinted from the May 1, 2006 edition of the LA Daily News.

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