|Los Angeles Police Department's First Female Hispanic Academy
By Gail Ryan
It was 1946, WWII was over, and
the world was trying to return to some normalcy. LosAngeles, once a dry desert
town, was on the verge of a growth boom. Returning service men, not wanting
to go back to the farms and cold climates, saw California and Los Angeles
as a land of opportunity.
And for a few women that dared, that door of opportunity was opening up
for them also. Having worked in airplane factories or served in the military
as pilots or nurses they weren't ready to return to their old roles of homemaker
or dutiful daughters after the war was over. One of these women were Josephine
Born to Francisco and Ynez (Gonzalez) Serrano on March 14, 1922 in Jerome,
Arizona. She was one of seven surviving siblings out of twelve born to her
parents. To support her family, her father and older brother worked in the
copper mines of the mountain town till a mining accident cost her brother
his leg. Eventually the mines in Jerome would play outand the town would
become a "Ghost Town." Featured in Ghost Towns of the Old West, today it's
on the National Parks Registry. However, long before this in 1925, the Serrano
family moved back to Mexico with the insurance settlement they had received
after the brother's accident.
Life in Mexico for the Serrano family would be short lived. With the
revolution in full swing, another brother was about to be executed by poncho
Villas' rebels for being a Catholic; so the family moved again in 1927. Fleeing
in the middle of the night with only what they could carry, the Serranos
fled back to the States. This time they settled in Lincoln Heights area around
It was here in Lincoln Heights, that Josephine would grow up hard. The
glitz and glamour of the roaring twenties was over. The depression era was
in full swing and the WWII was around the corner. When Josephine was fourteen
years old, her father died leaving her mother and brothers to care for the
family. Even though she was raised in a typical Mexican family culture, she
was aware from childhood that she wanted more. From the day she was made
a safety officer at school. Josephine knew she wanted to be a liaison between
the Mexican Community and the police.
In the late 30's the Zoot Suiters emerged on the scene. Her quiet little
self contained community with neighborhood stores would change forever. You
didn't dare venture across the tracks to the Hazard Park area or visa versa.
One night a boy did to see his girlfriend and he was severely beaten up.
And there was the LAPD of the 30's. The police were respected then and tough.
More than once Josephine saw lumps and bumps on kids who had a run in with
the local beat officer. This made Josephine all the more want to be a liaison
between her community and the police.
During WWII, Josephine worked for Lockheed on the Ventura Bomber, P-38
fighter and the constellation. She was "Josie the Riveter" till the war ended.
When the war ended, women who had held down the homefront had to give up
their jobs to returning service men. Josie was one of them. In 1946 Josie
was working for Thrifty Drugs and engaged to be married. A fellow employee
told her that he had heard the City of L.A. was going to hire a few women
to be policewomen on a trial basis to replace the matrons in the City Jail
at Lincoln Heights.
Meeting the requirements of being over 5'4 and 23 years old, knowing it
was now or never, breaking strong cultural traditions against her family
wishes and costing her engagement, Josephine paid her a $1 and applied for
the position of policewoman. Two hundred women took the test, twenty-one
of them were hired. On a Monday morning in early October 1946 they received
their Policewoman badge (#63 for Josephine) when they were sworn in at City
Hall. One month later, eleven finished the academy. Six monthes later, only
nine were left. The women had no graduation ceremony, received no diploma
nor were they given a gun. It wouldn't be until October 1996, that their
class would be honored in a special ceremony at the police academy on the
Fifieth Anniversary of the First Policewoman Class to graduate from the academy.
They were also honored at a special "Legendary Ladies" Luncheon. (Retired
Policewomen) Josephine's career would be spent under Chief William Parker's
reign retiring with Policewoman Badge #21.
Once they left the Academy, half were sent to work Georgia Street Juvenile,
and the other half were assigned the old Lincoln Heights Jail. Those that
went to the jail wore white nurse's uniforms, since there wasn't a uniform
for policewomen at the time. All were given $200 a month salary, four days
off and a six month probation period. (Prior to this time, a hand full of
women had been invited to join the LAPD on a as needed basis with no formal
training.) A few of them along with matrons were assigned to the city jail
in the 30's and 40's. Those women assigned to the jail had their white nurse's
uniform kept clean by the jail trustees. Two years after the Class of '46
joined the Department, they were sent back to the academy for an in-service
training session. It was at this training that they were finally given guns
and taught to shoot. They were also issued the first Policewoman uniform.
Josephine was one of those assigned to Lincoln Heights Jail. Not knowing
how to drive, she took the streetcar to work. She didn't get her drivers
license till 1950, after a sergeant requested she take a prisoner to the
hospital and found out Josephine couldn't drive. She honed her driving skills
on detective vehicles while assigned to Hollenbeck juvenile where she was
involved in three pursuits. She had to drive since her two male partners
were fighting with a prisoner in the back seat.
Josephine has many fond memories of the job. The second week on the job
a trustee at the jail told her that a woman was having a baby and trying
to flush it down the toilet in one of the cells. Josephine entered the cell,
saved the baby and had the mother and child transported to the hospital.
She can still recall all the fights with drunks and prostitutes on Friday
and Saturday nights, along with the comradery with the other female officers.
In the late 40's she walked a PM foot beat in Perishing Square with another
policewoman. Both were in plain clothes that included hat, gloves, and high
heels. One night they met a man who thought they were hookers. He solicited
them. Then he began telling them how he liked children and what he liked
to do with them. They walked all the way to the bus depot with the man before
they could flag down a unit to transport their arrest to Central Station.
On another night, they were patrolling near a hotel at 6th and Main Streets
when they heard a woman yelling for help. They entered the hotel, located
the room and entered. It seems a drunken male circus performer was trying
to practice his act with his helper. She had on an old corset and they had
gotten stuck together somehow. Josephine was loaned to vice and bunco on
numerous occasions to work the gypsies, fortunetellers and abortionists.
She was also called upon to translate for arraignment court and on one occasion
for a group who had accused the police of shaking them down.
On June 26, 1948, Josephine married fellow officer Darwin "Jack" Collier,
later known as Sgt. Jack Collier of Hollenbeck Division. They would eventually
have three childern Suzanne, Johnny, and David. On October 24, 1960, Josephine
was forced to retire on a back disability after 14 years of service. For
a time, she worked for Job Corps as a counselor. When her husband retired,
they moved to Idaho. In Idaho, she worked for a time in a hardware store
and helped with the cattle along the Snake River. Then in 1987 her husband
Jack died. Today Josephine is totally retired and still lives in Idaho.
Occasionally she travels to California to visit friends and relatives. She
has fond memories of her life with the LAPD and hopes in some small way she
made a difference to the way of life on Los Angeles' Hispanic community with
her public service.