L.A. Times Article, by Beverly Stephen, 4/11/82


Can it be possible? A prime-time television series featuring a couple of realistic women police officers? No racy "Charlie's Angels" style glamour? A real female buddy story?

Yes, Virginia, there must be a Santa Claus. The series is "Cagney and Lacey," starring Tyne Daly and Meg Foster, on CBS. It is based on the successful 1981 CBS-TV Movie Of The Week of the same name.

Lest anyone think the millennium has come, it did take six years for the TV movie to go into production, and much of that time was spent combating basic chauvinist resistance, first at the movie studios, then at the networks. At one point, a film company suggested pairing Raquel Welch and Ann-Margret as Cagney and Lacey. But in the end, the film was not exploitative. The police officers are presented as mature women, not as girls or as sex objects.

Chris Cagney is single, tough and adventurous. Mary Beth Lacey is more cautious and nurturing. She struggles with working mother's guilt and the problems of a husband facing unemployment. The result is still entertaining and funny as well as a reasonably realistic portrayal of the officers and their working relationship.

Just how realistic? We asked some women officers in the New York Police Department who had seen the pilot and were pleased that a series had resulted. We spoke with Pat Holmes, president of the Police Women's Endowment Assn. and with officers Maria Fitzgerald and Mary DellRocca, who have worked as partners.

Good To See

"It was a little glamorized and there were a few technical flaws, but basically it was good to see female officers on television," Holmes said. "'Cagney and Lacey' will probably be good for recruitment. More women may want to take the exam."

"They did some things we would never do," Dell- Rocca explained. She cited a scene in the film, for example, in which the partners, on a roof with guns drawn, look through a skylight at people measuring out white powder.

To make the arrest, they lift the skylight, point their guns inside and shout, "Freeze! Police!"

"Any officer would call for help first," DellRocca said. Referring to another scene, she added. "It would be highly unusual to go out on your own time alone. You don't jeopardize yourself like that.

"I'd like to see them say, 'Oh my God, what are we doing here?' the way we really do," DellRocca said.

When DellRocca and Fitzgerald worked together as partners on patrol, it was unusual because there were so few women officers. Today there are about 1,400 women in a force of 18,000 and 95 are detectives. "When women first went on patrol in 1973, they would separate us because they felt responsible. When we did work together, our lieutenant acted like a Big Daddy, and he'd be right behind us saying, 'Are you alright?' But then he saw we were doing a good job and laid off. And when they saw some of the men we were working with, they said, 'Christmas, why worry about them working together?'" Fitzgerald said.

"We were stuck riding with guys other guys wouldn't work with," Holmes said.

Share of Razzing

These women have taken their share of razzing from fellow officers and public alike, as have all women entering predominantly male professions. But they like the variety and excitement of their work and the money they earn. In the film one of the officers is married and the other single. The police officers we spoke with are all married...to other cops. "It's difficult going around the clock if you're not married to a cop. A shoe salesman doesn't understand if you're not there to make dinner," Fitzgerald said.

As more of the younger officers come up through the academy with women, they are getting used to the presence of women on the job. "In the beginning the guys would carry on and say, 'Hey, here they come.' And the guy you were going to ride would start putting on Old Spice all over himself," Fitzgerald said. "But the young ones have been with women in class, in the gym, everywhere. They're used to it."

"The public," DellRocca recalled, "was used to dialing 911 and getting two burly guys. And when we came they would say, 'Oh, they sent you?'"

On the more positive side, Holmes noted that "a lot of women are very happy to see us in family-abuse or rape cases. But it's going to take a lot more time and a lot more women officers before everybody gets used to us."

Like all women in non-traditional professions, women officers are aware that the public judges all women officers on the performance of one. Says Fitzgerald, "If someone takes a gun away from a male rookie, nobody talks about it. If it happens to a woman, it makes headlines. The public is judging not only me but every policewoman in the city. So I have a responsibility to do my job right."

Women still make up a small percentage of the police force and an even smaller percentage of its management. The female officers still believe they face discrimination in both the hiring and promotion process and in the way they are perceived by colleagues, the public and the media. If a series like "Cagney and Lacey" makes even a small dent in that perception, it purpose will have been served.

***This article was sent to me by Scott. Thanks, Scott!

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