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Historic Women Behind the Bench and Badge
Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County, Women, Judges, Police, Sheriff, Law Enforcement, Courts

Some of Los Angeles County's historic women in our timeline, listed below.
Top row, L-R: Michele Leonhard (DEA), Josephine Serrano (LAPD), Sharon Papa (MTA Police), Mabel Willebrandt (Public Defender), Georgia Robinson (LAPD), Jennifer Grasso (LAPD); Middle row, L-R: Jule Cabe (LASD), Vaino Spencer (California Judge), Alice Wells (LAPD), Jackie Lacey (District Attorney), Jacqueline Nguyen (Federal Judge); Bottom row, L-R: Clara Shortridge Foltz (District Attorney Office), Consuelo Marshall (Federal Judge), Carole Freeman and patrol deputies (LASD, Temple Station), Sue Burakowshi (LASD), Georgia Bullock (California Judge), Marilyn Diaz (Sierra Madre PD)


1910 – Alice Stebbins Wells: First female police officer in the United States.

1910 – Clara Shortridge Foltz: First female Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County.

1912 – Margaret Adams: First female deputy sheriff in the United States.

1915 – Orfa Jean Shontz: First female referee of the Juvenile Court of Los Angeles County.

ca. 1916– Mabel Walker Willebrandt: First female public defender in Los Angeles County. She worked for courts to allow testimony from both men and women and successfully campaigned for enactment of a revised community property statute in California. In 1921, she was appointed to be a U.S. Assistant Attorney General, only the second woman to hold that position.

1919 – Emma Benson: First female California law enforcement officer and first female deputy sheriff in the United States to lose her life in the line of duty. She was in a sheriff automobile that was hit by a train. Both she and the male deputy driver were killed. A third male deputy in the vehicle was injured but survived.

1919 - Georgia Ann Robinson: First female African American LAPD officer and second female African American police officer in the United States.

1924 – Georgia Bullock: First female judge in Los Angeles County, upon her appointment to the Los Angeles County Women’s Court. In 1926, became a municipal judge. In 1931, she was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor James Rolph Jr., making her the second woman in the United States to preside over a court of general jurisdiction.

1925 – Mary O’Rourke: First female in the United States to work in vice/narcotics units in a metropolitan police department.

ca. 1943 – May Darlington Lahey: First female to serve as the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. Appointed to the Municipal Court in 1928, she was the second woman appointed to that court.

1944 – Doris Speers Mack: First female African American LASD deputy sheriff.

1945 – Leola Vess and Laura Churchill: First two females promoted to the rank of LAPD sergeant.

1946 – Josephine Serrano: First Latina LAPD officer. She graduated with the first all-female police academy class.

1950 – Vivian Strange: First female African American to be promoted to the rank of LAPD sergeant.

1953 – Francis Blumfeld: First female law enforcement captain (LASD) in United States.

1961 – Vaino Spencer: First African-American woman appointed to a judgeship in California (Los Angeles Municipal Court). In 1976, named to Superior Court. In 1980, named Presiding Justice of California Court of Appeal (Second District). One of California's longest servicing jurists.

1962 – Consuelo B. Marshall: First female (and African American female) to work in the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.

1963 – Marion L. Obera: First African American female in California to serve as a Deputy District Attorney.

1967 – Joyce Kano: First female Asian American LAPD officer. Went on to become a detective.

1972 – 12 LASD Female Deputy Sheriffs: First female deputy sheriffs in the United States assigned to patrol (LAPD women officers had performed limited patrol duties since the 1940s).The deputies were Mary Fran Baker, Barbara Birkland, Lovette Caples, Carole Freeman, Judy McGrath, Jeanne (Miles) Sysak, Elaine Minnis, Judy (Allen) Preimsberger, Kathy Wade, Norma Zinn, Charlene Rottler, and Judy Shepard.

1975 – Connie Speck: First female promoted to the rank of LAPD lieutenant. In 1980 she again made history by being the first woman promoted to the rank of LAPD captain.

1976 – Carole Freeman: First female LASD patrol sergeant, assigned to Temple Station.

1976 – Irma Alvarez: Working as a LASD patrol deputy sheriff, she was the first California female peace officer intentionally shot and wounded in the line of duty. She demonstrated that women were fully capable of performing patrol duties in high stress and dangerous situations.

1979 – Fanchon Blake: Fought for gender equity within the LAPD after she and other female officers were denied any opportunity to promote above the rank of sergeant. Her federal lawsuit resulted in a consent decree to end discrimination and increase the number of women and minorities in the department.

1980 – Arleigh M. Woods: First female African American appointed to be a Justice of the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) and the first to any state appeal court in the United States.

1980 – Ramona Murray: First female motorcycle officer in Los Angeles County (CHP). Eventually became highest ranking woman in the CHP, when promoted to Deputy Commissioner in 2012.

1980 – Ramona Perez: First Latino American female judge in Los Angeles County (Los Angeles Municipal Court). She later was appointed to Los Angeles Superior Court in 1985 and Associate Justice on the California Court of Appeal in 1993.

1980 – Susan Bouman: Deputy sheriff who fought for gender equity within the LASD. Her sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit in Federal court against the LASD led to a 1988 consent decree. The decree compelled the department to recruit and promote more women and reform its anti-harassment policy.

1981 – Juliann “Julie” Cabe: First female law enforcement helicopter pilot in the United States (LASD).

1981 – Marion Hellenkamp: First female African American promoted to LAPD lieutenant.

1987 – Joanna Needham: First LAPD female motorcycle officer.

1990 – Sharon Papa: First female chief of a police department in Los Angeles County (Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department). In 2010, became first LAPD female assistant chief of LAPD. In 2013, became first female chief of the Hermosa Beach Police Department.

1991 – Janice Carlson: First female to command a LAPD geographic police division (Pacific Division).

1997 – Betty Kelepecz: First female promoted to rank of LAPD commander.

1997 – Michele Leonhart: First female federal Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles. In 2010, she was appointed to be DEA Administrator in Washington.

1998 – Rachel Burgess: First woman to be a LASD Assistant Sheriff.

2000 – Margaret “Peggy” York: First female LAPD deputy chief.

2000 – Ann Young: First female African-American promoted to the rank of LAPD Captain.

2001 – Loraine Brown: First female federal Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Customs Service (and later Homeland Security Investigations) in Los Angeles.

2002 – Jacqueline Nguyen: First female Vietnamese American judge in Los Angeles County (Superior Court). In 2009 became first Vietnamese-American and first female Asian-Pacific American federal judge in California (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California). In 2011, became first Asian-American woman to serve as a federal appellate judge (U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit).

2002 – Sue Burakowski: First female member of the LASD Special Enforcement Bureau.

2006 – Marilyn Diaz: First female municipal police chief in Los Angeles County (Sierra Madre PD)

2008 – Tina Nieto: First Latina promoted to the rank of LAPD captain.

2008 – Jennifer Grasso: First female LAPD SWAT officer.

2010 – Regina Scott: First female African American promoted to LAPD Commander (2010) and Deputy Chief (2018).

2012 – Jackie Lacey: First female (and African American) District Attorney for Los Angeles County.

2016 – Deirdre Fike: First female director of the FBI Los Angeles office.

2017 – Anne Clark: First Latina promoted to rank of LAPD commander.

2018 – Dorothy C. Kim: First Korean American appointed as a Justice of the Court of Appeal in California (Second District Court of Appeal in California).


Sources: 100 Years of Women in Law Enforcement: 1910-2010, List of first women lawyers and judges in California, Almanac research.